Noah and the Mighty Warrior

(An Excerpt from Ephesians Plus, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

(Based on Genesis 6-7)

We might as well start with the bad news.  The bad news is that God is a Mighty Warrior.

Actually, whether it’s bad news or good news depends on the point of view.  From where I’m standing now, it has begun to look like good news.  How is that possible?

You can probably understand why it would look like bad news that God is a Mighty Warrior.  The Bible has a great deal to say about the anger of God, the “wrath of God,” or the judgment of God.  (It also has a great deal to say about His love, His mercy, His kindness, His compassion, but I’ve said we’d be starting with the bad news).  A lot of people come away from a partial reading of the Bible with the idea that the God of the Bible is harsh, unloving, and angry.  If a person thinks of God as harsh and unloving, nothing could be further from the truth.  But I have to admit that we do often see His anger in the Bible.

What makes God angry?  Let’s get a little more personal.  What makes you angry?  I don’t mean, what are your pet peeves, what mildly irritates you, like dirty socks that never make it to the hamper or drivers who don’t bother to signal.  I mean, what really makes your blood boil?  If there was any particular thing (or things) you could destroy outright, what would it be?  Think for a second about what you would answer, and then let’s take a little closer look at the anger of God.

What are some of the specific things that you would imagine would make His blood boil?  What are some of the specifics that you think He may want to destroy outright?

I can tell you a few of the things that would be on my list: things like, Holocausts, genocides, murder, rape, child abuse, drive-by shootings, corrupt big business, drugs being sold to young kids on the playground, elderly people being beaten senseless in their own homes for the sake of a few bucks, disrespect and ingratitude toward good parents (oops! I’ve been guilty of the disrespect and ingratitude.  But they sure make my blood boil when I see them in other people’s children).  And the list goes on.  How is it possible to watch the news or read the newspapers and keep the blood below boiling point?!  When I think about the things that go on everywhere in our world on a daily basis, I have a new understanding for the anger of God that I read about in the Bible.  You have to realize that the things that make our blood boil are exactly the kinds of things that the world was chock-full of back in the time of Noah.

We have to realize why God saw fit to destroy the world with a flood.  “All flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”  Except for the animals, of course.  And one man and his family.  And those were the ones God saved from the destruction that He brought upon the rest of the earth.

Still, this entire account may raise grave theological quandaries in your mind.  The evil in the world of Noah’s day may make us angry, as well, when we see it in our own world, but if we went around wiping out everyone who commits evil, wouldn’t that be just as evil as the evil that made us angry in the first place?

Yes, it would.  But you have to realize something else.  We’re not God.

Why would God hold the rights to life and death that we don’t hold?

If you’re thinking something to the effect of, “He’s the Creator of life,” then you and I are on the same page.

We didn’t create life.  We don’t hold the rights to life and death of our fellow humans in our hands.  But God does.  (In certain cases, He has entrusted those rights into the hands of lawfully-appointed authorities (Gen.9:6-7, Rom. 13:1-4), but we’re not going to sidetrack onto a discussion of capital punishment here).  The Creator of life is the only one who has the right to say when it should end.

Hopefully, you are somewhat familiar with the story of “the Fall” in Genesis 3.  We see from that chapter that once sin and evil had entered the world, death was the inevitable result.  Are there any good reasons why God cursed the earth and all living things on it with this curse of death once sin had entered the world?

If nothing comes to mind, try imagining a world where everyone lived forever and where all the specific evils I mentioned earlier were a reality (except, of course, murder).  There would be no escape.  We would never be free of concentration camps and rape and child abuse and oppression and cruelty and prejudice and hatred.  Imagine living forever in a world like that!  And the longer we lived, the worse we’d all go on getting.  It’s unthinkable!  It’s a nightmare!  Once humans took matters into their own hands and rebelled against God’s commands and told Him they could run their own world without Him (or decided they could “be like God”– Gen. 3:5), God had to institute death on the earth.  It was the only thing to do.

Of course, it’s extremely painful for us when we lose loved ones.  When we start talking specific cases, I’m no more inclined than you are to think of death as a good thing.  And it’s not a good thing.  But because of sin, I can see that death is a necessary thing.  Romans 6:23 tells us that death is sin’s just and lawful wage, and that’s the way I’ve come to see it.  Where sin enters, death must follow.  There must be an end to it all.

I’m convinced that God is a Gentleman.  He doesn’t force His way on anyone.  He gives us choices, but He warns us in advance what will result from making the wrong choices.  Humanity chose their own way rather than God’s way, and that decision opened the door for every form of evil to enter: Holocausts and genocides and child abuse and all the other evils you and I could probably agree are on our lists of “Things that Must Be Gotten Rid of.”  He had warned the first humans that choosing their way over His would result in death, and so it must.  Humanity made the wrong choice, and God had to curse the earth with the curse of death.

And it was a curse, but I like to think of it as “a curse of mercy.” Out of pity, He instituted death on the earth.

We could get taken up with questions like, “But what about all the poor animals?  Animals don’t commit evil.  Why did He decree that everything on the earth must eventually die, even the earth itself?”  I don’t want to get too far afield, but this is a very sticky theological problem for a lot of people, so I don’t want to ignore it completely, either.  The shortest answer I could give you is that when sin entered the world, everything must die. Even the innocent animals.  Even our planet.  Even the universe itself is heading for an ending point, the second law of thermodynamics tells us.  But again, try to imagine it any other way.  Imagine that we humans, individually, could die because we’ve all sinned but that the earth and our universe just kept on going and going and going.  Then there would never be an end to the madness.  We would keep on perpetuating the evil in the world generation after generation after generation. No, when humanity brought evil into its world, even the world had to die.  Why?  So that there could be a new world.  A new shot at a new reality — a perfect, untainted reality.  That’s the only kind of a reality that could last forever.  One that’s completely perfect.  Any time we try to imagine a forever kind of an existence without perfection we end up with the same nightmare.

So that brings us, in a roundabout way, back to the flood of Noah’s day.  Was God unfair to wipe out all life except the life that survived on the ark?  Well, remember two things: He holds the rights to life and death.  And everything must die, one way or the other.  It’s up to Him to decide the timing of that event.  If He chose to wipe out en masse everything that lived at that time or if He chose to take all those lives gradually one by one the way He usually does, would it make much difference in the long run?  The fact remains that nothing that was alive back then would still be living today.

So far, I hope we might be agreeing that it’s right to be angry about sin.  I hope we might also be agreeing that death must be the right and natural result of sin.  In that case, maybe we can also agree that God is not unfair, unjust, harsh, and unloving even if we do see His anger toward sin and His judgment of death upon it.  Maybe we could even begin agreeing that it really just might be good news that God is a Mighty Warrior.

God will not and cannot make a truce with sin itself.  And what a good thing that is!  It’s a nightmare to imagine living in any kind of an imperfect world forever.  It’s also a nightmare to imagine a God running the universe who is not a relentless warrior against evil.  A God who could turn a blind eye to Holocausts.  A God who could wink at rape and child abuse and drive-by shootings and say, “Ah, well, boys must be boys!”  NO! I’m so grateful, when I really stop to think about it, that God must and will destroy sin.  That is good news!

Or is it?  It starts to look like bad news again when I remember something.  According to Romans 3:23 (which assures us that all have sinned) it looks as though it just might be bad news for us that God is a Mighty Warrior against sin.

Sure, you and I probably don’t commit the kinds of sins that really make our blood boil — the kinds of sins we agreed on earlier.  But think about this for a moment: Where did those things come from?

All the “really terrible” sins and all the sins that you and I commit every day all grow out of the same root.  That root is the sin that you and I have both committed and that every single human (except one) who has ever lived has committed.  Earlier, I phrased it this way: “Humanity chose their own way rather than God’s way.”  And isn’t that the sin that every single one of us has committed?  The decision that I’m going to run my own life, never mind God and what He has to say about it.  I’m going to be the boss of me.  That sin opens the door to every other kind.  And because God is a Gentleman, He says, “You can run your own life if you choose!  You can reject Me if you choose.  But I’ll tell you what the results will be.”  And we can see the results all around us.  A world full of all kinds of blood-boiling types of evil.  And ultimately, death!

I’ll leave it there for today because I want the bad news to sink in for awhile.  There is good news to follow, of course (otherwise the Bible would end with Genesis chapter three).  But the good news will have to wait till later.

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The Mighty Warrior’s Dilemma

(An Excerpt from Ephesians Plus, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

(Based on Genesis 2-3)

So far we’ve seen that God is a Mighty Warrior against evil.  And that’s good news.  And bad news — for people who do evil. In other words, bad news for all of us. To some extent, we all do evil. But the bad news is just going to get “badder” before it gets better.

Yesterday, I wrote about one aspect of sin’s just and lawful wages: physical death.

Today, we’re going to be looking at a different kind of death: spiritual death. But this kind of death is also sin’s just and lawful wage.

“The soul who sins shall die …” says Ezekiel 18:20. But what can Ezekiel 18:20 mean? After all, everyone dies eventually. (Of course, it’s true that all have sinned).  But why would Ezekiel 18:20 speak about a soul dying?

When we get into the New Testament and read things like, “The Lord is … not willing that any should perish …” from 2 Peter 3:9 and “… whoever believes in Him should not perish …” from John 3:16, the picture begins to come clearer that we’re not simply talking about physical death here — because, physically, all perish (or die).

Even more incredibly, John 3:16 goes on to tell us that not only will the one who believes in “Him” not perish; the believer in “Him” will have eternal or everlasting life.  Plainly, then, “everlasting life” means something more than physical life — life on this earth — because we know that no one lives “everlastingly” on this earth. Whatever “perish” means in John 3:16, it is being contrasted with “everlasting life” as though they are opposites. We could call the opposite of “everlasting life” “everlasting death.”

The Bible uses other words for “everlasting life” and “everlasting death.” The ones we’re probably the most familiar with are heaven and hell.

Hell is another of those biblical concepts that raises some major theological stumbling blocks in people’s minds. However, an eternal heaven and an eternal hell are concepts that are taught very clearly in the Bible. We can’t get around them. If we’re going to take this Book seriously, we have to take all its teachings seriously, whether we like what it teaches or not.

Let’s talk a little more about this idea of “spiritual death.”  It’s not an easy idea to grasp. In order to find out what “spiritual death” means, we’ll need to look back to Genesis 2 and 3 to find out where it all started.

According to Genesis 2:17, there was a tree in the garden-home God had created for the first humans that He had instructed them they were not to eat the fruit of.  If they chose to disobey, in the day they ate of it, they would die!

When would that happen? “In the day that you eat of it…”

But in Genesis 3:1-5, enter “the serpent” — the villain (he goes by other names, too).  And he began planting the idea in the mind of the first woman that God hadn’t told her the truth. He puts doubt into Eve’s mind that God really knows what He’s talking about. He assured her she wouldn’t die if she disobeyed. And as we read on, it begins to look as though the serpent was right (at least as far as the timing of the event God promised would happen).

Was God telling the truth? Did Adam and Eve die in the very day they ate the fruit?

Sure they did! They just didn’t look dead!

Think about that Christmas tree that you had last Christmas (unless you do the artificial tree thing).  When did it die? Four weeks into the new year when all its needles have dropped on the carpet, and you’re wishing you hadn’t procrastinated getting rid of it quite so long?  No, it died from the very moment it was chopped down and separated from its roots — its life source.  But it didn’t begin to look dead until sometime after New Year’s Day.

I’d like us to think about what death is for a moment. We’ll start with physical death.  Is it ceasing to exist?  So some believe.  But that’s presuming that all there ever really was to a person was his or her body. And the body’s still there. It hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s just that whatever made it alive has gone somewhere.  So regardless of what you believe about the nature of reality (and us), death can’t mean ceasing to exist.

Some may get all medical if I were to ask them what death is and started describing the causes (or effects) of death, like, the cessation of a heart beat, the cessation of brain activity, the cessation of respiration. But none of those things are describing what death really is, are they? They’re describing the causes of physical death. Or its effects, however you’d like to look at it. I mean, none of those physical signs of death define death or tell us what it really is or even the real why behind it. To say, “Death occurred because the heart stopped beating or the lungs stopped working,” is to speak in tautology.  It’s a little like saying, “Death occurred because death occurred.”

After we really start to think about it, I think we may have to agree that death (and, by implication, life) is still a giant mystery.  It is a fact that reaches into realms beyond the merely empirical—beyond the world of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.  We still don’t really know what makes us alive or what makes us die.

But the Bible gives us some partial answers (without entirely removing the mystery).  It teaches us that physical death is nothing more nor less than the separation of the body from the real person — from the life source of a person; the part that we call a soul or a spirit.

I think the best definition for death is the one the Bible hints toward: Separation.

In physical death, it’s the separation of the body from its life source — the real person. Spiritual death is the same idea. It, too, is a separation. It’s the separation of the real person (the soul or spirit) from the Life Source.  And I’m sure you can guess who that is.

And “everlasting death” (of the spiritual kind) is an everlasting separation from God, from our Life Source.

We saw in yesterday’s lesson that God must destroy sin. He is a relentless warrior against evil. He cannot allow it to continue forever (at least, not in His perfect, forever kind of a reality). And I call that a very good thing when we think about how truly evil evil is.

In the end, those who refuse to let go of their sin must be destroyed along with it. The person who insists to the bitter end that he can, must, and will be the only person running his life, that he doesn’t want any part of God being the One in charge, will not be able to live forever with God in His presence.

I hope you can see why it must be that way. I hope we’ve agreed that a forever kind of existence where Holocausts, etc. are possible would be a nightmare.

But what about all my “little” sins? Why should they keep me out of heaven?

Even if the only sins I ever commit are “little” ones, even if the only sin I ever commit is the one where I say to God, “I’m going to run my life, not You,” that sin must keep me out of heaven. Why? Because that’s the sin that opened the door to all the others in the first place. Heaven would not stay heaven for very long unless the only people who lived there were the people who had decided that God must be God! No one else! Not me, not you! Just God.

We have to get this issue settled as the one that’s of first importance. “Who is really God? Who is going to be the God of my life?”

And if we stubbornly refuse to admit to any higher authority other than our own selves, we can see that we will inevitably be destroyed along with our sin by being separated from God, the Source of all that’s good and lovely, for eternity. And that is the state that the Bible calls hell.

And can you see why hell is going to be, very literally, hell? When we look at our world, I think we can see that God has permitted us to have a little taste of hell by seeing what happens when we decide that we’re going to run the show by ourselves and cut ourselves off from Him.  Not very pretty, is it? And that’s just a little taste.

He’s allowed us to make our own choices, and those choices are eternal ones. He gives us freedom. He pays us the compliment of taking that freedom that He gave us very solemnly. It was a real freedom. He abides by our choices and the consequences they bring. He doesn’t force us to do things His way, even if that means we spend eternity apart from Him.

But now we come to the Mighty Warrior’s dilemma: because He loves people, He desperately doesn’t want to see them choosing against Him and spending eternity apart from Him in hell. But we’ve all made the wrong choice. And that’s where His dilemma comes in.

What’s a Mighty Warrior to do when He also happens to love people? Well, we’ll find out tomorrow.

At last! Some good news!

 

The Mighty Warrior Makes a Truce

(An Excerpt from Ephesians Plus, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

(Based on Genesis 9 and Ephesians 1:1-10)

I’ve called today’s post, “The Mighty Warrior Makes a Truce.” But God cannot make a truce with evil, we’ve seen that. However, if He can find a way to separate people from their evil, then He can make a truce with people. (At least, all those who want to enter into a truce with Him. Remember that He’s a Gentleman.)

“Truce” is not a very good word when we start talking about God and how He makes peace. It implies concessions and compromises and both sides bringing something to the table. But it does carry the idea of making peace, and that’s the sense in which I’m using it. Instead of using the word “truce” which is a little weak for our purposes, let’s start using the word the Bible uses: “covenant.” That word might not mean a blessed thing to you at this point in time. (I hope, at some point in time, that it will come to mean a blessed thing to you. A very blessed thing.) Don’t worry! I think as we go along, its meaning will start to become clearer. For now, just latch onto the idea that God wants to make peace and He does it through a covenant.

I have a Hebrew-English Tanakh (or Old Testament) that you’ll probably hear me referring to from time to time. I don’t read or speak Hebrew, but I’m trying to learn a word here and there, and I enjoy reading the English translation because its translation often sheds new light on things I’ve never noticed in the Bible or things I’ve stopped noticing.

One night, quite late, I was looking something up in my Tanakh (I don’t remember what), but I was in Genesis, looking at the story of Noah and the flood.  I noticed something I never had before. It was the word “bow” in Genesis 9:13.  God set His bow in the sky as a sign of His covenant with Noah to never again destroy the earth with a flood.

In the version I normally read and in which I’ve read this story a million and a half times (give or take a few), it uses the word “rainbow” instead of “bow.”

You may think I’m exceptionally dense, and probably everyone else in the world has always known why we call a “rainbow” a “rain” “bow,” but the reason had never occurred to me until I read Genesis 9:13 in my Hebrew-English Tanakh. Up until that moment, I had always thought of rainbows as pretty, happy things, belonging to the world of butterflies and puppies and kittens and ice cream. I had long ago realized that the story of Noah’s ark was not a pretty, happy thing belonging to that pretty, happy world, although, it is interesting how the story is prettied up for young children. Often, in nursery decorations, we’ll see pictures of a smiling, happy, cartoon Noah and smiling, happy, cartoon animals all off joy-riding together on a cute, little, cartoon ark. And the cute, little, cartoon ark is always surrounded by a what? By a smiling, happy, cute, little, cartoon rainbow.

And that was the light in which I had always seen the rainbow from the story of Noah and his cute, little ark. It was the part of the story one focuses on when one tells the story to children. It was a pretty, happy thing God had put in the sky to promise that He would never again use water to destroy the world and destroy sin. I had never, ever put any more thought into it than that. It didn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense to me, but then a lot of things from the Bible don’t. I guess I had always thought of the “bow” in the word “rainbow” as the kind of bow you tie on pretty, happy packages. After all, ribbons are pretty, happy, shiny things, and rainbows are pretty, happy, shiny things.

But when I saw the word “bow” in my Hebrew-English Bible, it started me thinking. I realized then that the “bow” we were dealing with from Genesis 9 was the bow which is a weapon.  And that makes sense, looking at a rainbow. Although it is a pretty, happy, shiny thing, I realize now that it must have taken its name from the shape of a bow. I mean, a bow-and-arrow kind of a bow. (No doubt, you discovered that fact in infancy, but like I say, I’m a little slow.) I did a little more research and discovered that the Hebrew word translated “bow” in Genesis 9 is, in fact, the bow-and-arrow kind of bow.

And what kinds of things would bows and arrows have been used for back in Bible times?

I can only think of two: hunting and warfare.

This realization started me down the train of thought that has turned into this series of posts: God as a Mighty Warrior. After I realized what God was telling Noah when He hung His “bow” in the sky, the part of the story of the rainbow from Genesis 9 began to make a whole lot more sense to me. What was God saying to Noah by hanging His bow in the sky? Quite simply, the Mighty Warrior had hung up His weapon.

At least, one particular weapon.

He had destroyed sin, and the earth along with it, by water. It was His weapon of water that He hung in the sky as a sign of His covenant of peace with Noah and with the new world, an act that I suspect Noah may have already been familiar with from his own culture.

I did a little more research and was interested to learn how many tribal groups have had or still have peace ceremonies involving breaking bows and arrows. It’s still common as a sign of a peace treaty in some parts of the world.

(As a side note, I couldn’t help but think about how the more I get to know God, everything about Him ends up looking so thoroughly beautiful. Even His weapon is a beautiful one.)

All this was very interesting to me as I was realizing it late that night when I first began realizing it.  However, I didn’t think much about it just then. But right after I’d been reading in Genesis in my Tanakh, I flipped over to Isaiah to look up something else (again, I can’t remember what), and my eyes were caught by the words in Isaiah 54:9-10, ” ‘For this is like the waters of Noah to me; For as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD who has mercy on you.”

There it was again: the covenant of peace made with Noah. Could it possibly be coincidence that this idea was popping up again miles away from Genesis, right after I’d been making some realizations about that covenant of peace from Genesis? I had the sneaking suspicion it wasn’t coincidence at all. In fact, I had the distinct feeling that God had taken out His big, yellow highlighter (hey! If he has a big, pretty, shiny bow and arrow, why not a big, yellow highlighter?) and was marking passages in my Bible for me to notice. But I had no idea what He was trying to say to me just then. It was late; I was tired. I’d have to think it out the next day.

And the next day, I couldn’t keep from thinking about it. I was intrigued. What was the point God was trying to get through to me? After I began to see what His point may have been, I began to have another sneaking suspicion.

I had just taken on the task or duty (or privilege, however you’d like to look at it) of leading a Bible study for young women, and I already knew that we were going to be studying Ephesians, but I didn’t know at all what I was going to say about Ephesians. However, when God got out His big, yellow highlighter, I had the feeling that He wasn’t showing me things just for the sake of showing me things. I had the sneaking suspicion He was showing me things so that I would be able to show them to the young ladies who were part of our new Bible study.

But what on earth did God as a Mighty Warrior and a covenant of peace made with Noah have to do with Ephesians? I read back over the first chapter of Ephesians several times, looking for a reference to Noah that I may have missed the first million and a half times (Hey! Could happen! I’d never noticed that a rainbow was really a “bow” before!) But no, there were no references to Noah and God’s covenant of peace with him.

Or were there? After about one time after the first million and a half times, I began to see where Noah and the covenant of peace fit into Ephesians chapter one.

Verse two of Ephesians 1 was a verse I’d never really noticed before. After all, Paul (the writer of Ephesians) always seemed to use this standard opening greeting for the letters he wrote (Ephesians being one of them). But what a standard greeting! What a meaning-packed statement!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Suddenly, it was as though God had out His big, yellow highlighter again. There was a reason Paul used this greeting as his standard opening line. It was because it meant so much to him. Then, as I read through the first ten verses of Ephesians again, I began to see that Paul’s standard opening line was really the theme for those first ten verses. In fact, for the whole book of Ephesians. Maybe even for the whole Bible! What an enormously exciting concept it is that the Mighty Warrior has made a covenant of peace!

The Mighty Warrior Makes a Covenant…by Blood

(An Excerpt from Ephesians Plus, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

(Based on Genesis 9)

Why is the Bible so full of talk about blood? It’s all over the place.

In our churches, as well, we talk about it, we sing about it, we have a ceremony where we drink wine or grape juice that supposedly represents it. If the whole thing is new to you, it may seem as though Christians are obsessed with blood! And it may seem like a pretty weird and morbid obsession. Gross, even!

Well, the first thing you can probably see about blood is exactly what Genesis 9:4 and the first line of Leviticus 17:11 say about it. What do these verses teach us about blood?  They teach us that the life of every creature is in the blood.  Blood is life.

We can’t live without it. Its life-giving circulation, carrying oxygen to every the part of the body, is something we can’t quite manage without. “Blood” has come to be synonymous with life (or death), as in, “bloodshed,” “the shedding of innocent blood,” “I’ll have his blood,” “There will be blood tonight!” etc. And that, of course, is the significance of blood in the Bible.

So when covenants were “made with blood” in the Bible, what does that mean?

It means, of course, that a life was taken. Biblical covenants were not just blood pacts the way some of us may have made them as kids, where two friends pricked themselves with a pin and put their fingers together to mingle the two, little drops of blood that came out. We don’t see any examples of biblical covenants, of God making peace with humanity, without a life being taken.

What on earth?!!! Does that sound very compatible with this God of love and mercy who gets more and more beautiful the more you get to know Him that I’ve been telling you about?

Well, here’s the thing. The blood shed in the making of a covenant was not the blood of the one entering into the covenant with God.  The one entering into the covenant with God was not an innocent party. That’s why there was a need for a covenant of peace. The Mighty Warrior is a warrior against evil. But He’s already at peace with all those who don’t do evil. There’s no need for Him to make a covenant of peace with the animal world (those who don’t do evil).

Because the Mighty Warrior is a relentless warrior against evil, the one who did evil had to take the just and lawful wage for doing evil — death (both the physical and the spiritual kind). Unless some other solution could be found. If an innocent party could representatively take the consequence of the death that should have fallen on the evil-doer, then the evil-doer wouldn’t have to. I don’t know why. It doesn’t exactly make sense to me. But there’s a lot of things I don’t understand about God and the way things work in His reality. (Imagine that!)

Now, God does not believe in human sacrifice (except in one notable exception that we’ll talk about at some future date). He made that very clear from His Law in the Bible. Human sacrifice is out! It was something that was abhorrent to Him. And besides the fact that human sacrifice is a great evil in itself, it wouldn’t have done any good.  The purpose of the shedding of innocent blood in a covenant was to bear-by-representation the consequences of evil-doing. It was humans who did the evil. No human sacrifice (except one) could qualify as the shedding of truly innocent blood to bear the cost of guilt for the guilty blood that should have been spilt.

And so we find animal sacrifice as the only acceptable covenant sacrifice instituted in the Old Testament Law (actually, right back in the beginning of Genesis as soon as sin had entered the world). In our modern world, we tend to look at this as a barbaric practice. It’s extremely distasteful to us.

You have to understand two things about animal sacrifice: I believe it was distasteful to God, too, in a sense, even though He commanded it. If you read between the lines from Scripture, He cares about animals. He was the original animal rights activist. (Ex. 23:12, Deut. 25:4, Jonah 4:11). The whole system of animal sacrifice, I believe, was meant to be distasteful. It was a graphic illustration of how utterly distasteful sin is

To God, sin is distasteful (to put it mildly) just because it’s sin. But for us, sin is distasteful because of its connection to suffering and death.  Suffering and death are utterly distasteful to us (and so the reason they needed to tag along on the heels of sin—to teach us just how distasteful sin really is). Animal sacrifice was a hard-hitting reminder of the awfulness of sin.

The other thing you have to understand is that, while God may find all death distasteful because He cares about all living things, He cares much more about people than about animals. As valuable as all life is, human life is much more valuable than animal life from a biblical persepective.  In fact, God loves people desperately.  Remember the dilemma we talked about a day or two ago?  How does a relentless Mighty Warrior against evil who also desperately loves people who do evil reconcile the two sides of this dilemma?

As distasteful as we find animal sacrifice, isn’t human sacrifice much, much worse, even to us?  God was willing to accept the innocent blood of animals shed in exchange for ours because we are infinitely more valuable to Him.

But Hebrews 10:4 tell us something interesting about the practice of taking animal life in exchange for human life.  It states that animal sacrifice could never really do the job of taking away sin.  Not the guilt of sin.  Nor its consequences.  So if the shedding of the blood of animals couldn’t possibly take away the sins of humans, what was the point of it?

I believe it was a picture. A graphic illustration. Not only of the distastefulness of sin. But a picture that had an even deeper meaning.  But that’s a part of the story that will have to wait for now.

All the same, whatever its meaning, it was something that was commanded by God, and all those who wanted to enter into a covenant of peace with Him needed to enter into that covenant through the shedding of innocent blood as an act of faith in Him and obedience to Him. In Old Testament times, the shedding of innocent blood in these covenants was always animal blood.

I started thinking about this biblical principle when I started thinking about the covenant of peace that God made with Noah.  After God had destroyed the world with a flood, then Noah performed a burnt animal offering. And after Noah had offered his sacrifice, the very next thing we see happening is the Mighty Warrior hanging up His bow as a sign of a covenant of peace.

Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at what makes the difference between the Old Testament and the New or between the Old Covenant and the New.  (Hint: the covenant God made with Noah had far-reaching implications.  It, too, was a pointer: a sign.)

The Mighty Warrior Makes a New Covenant

(An Excerpt from Ephesians Plus, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

(Based on Ephesians 1 and Isaiah 54)

The truths that I want to share with you today are the reason why I believe God led me in the direction of sharing the story of Noah with you. Today is the crux of the matter for me.

This isn’t the crux of the matter, but if you’ve ever wondered why there is an Old Testament and a New Testament and what those terms mean, we’ll be looking at that question to begin with.

Probably the only place (other than the Bible) where you or I would ever hear the word “testament” is in the phrase, “Last will and testament.”

From what we’ve seen so far about covenants, what are some of the similarities between a “last will and testament” and a covenant?

Off the top of my head, I came up with about three similarities. Both testaments and covenants are legal and binding. They are not to be broken. Then with both, something is being bestowed. Something is being given. And finally, for both of them, something or someone has to die for them to take effect.

We could simply call the New Testament “the New Covenant” because the New Covenant is the very heart of the New Testament.  That is really what the New Testament is: a New Covenant

As I was preparing to teach these lessons to the girls’ group that I taught on Ephesians, I had a new thought about covenants (seeing we’re on the subject of new things). I hadn’t noticed it before, but I began to realize that every time God made a covenant with anyone, He created something new.

We already know a little bit about the covenant He made with Noah. And what new thing did He create in His covenant with Noah? (You might have to do a little mind-reading in order to come up with the same answer I did, but I hope you’ll be able to see it when I tell you my answer.)  Through the flood and then His covenant of peace with Noah, God created a new world.

Two other Old Testament covenants that came immediately to mind were ones that God made with a couple of guys named Abraham and Moses (or a covenant with the people of Israel through a guy named Moses).

Through His covenant with Abraham, God created a new nation.  That nation came to be called “Israel.”  And through God’s covenant given through Moses, God created a new law for His new nation called Israel.

But there’s at least one more clear covenant that God made in the Bible after the Law of Moses.

Through whom did God make that covenant? (Check out Matthew 26:26-28 if you’re not sure.)  And through that New Covenant, I see God making a new new world, a new new nation, and a new new law.

I should clarify. We’re not told that God created a new law when He put the New Covenant into effect. Rather, under the New Covenant, He used new writing materials for His law.

Under the Old Covenant, God’s laws given to Moses were written on stone.  And under the New Covenant God writes His laws on hearts.

It seems like there’s a play on words happening here. God wrote His Old Covenant on tablets of stone, and people under the Old Covenant had hearts of stone (at least the majority of them did). Under the New Covenant, first He’d trade hearts of stone for hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Then, He’d write His laws on those tablets of flesh. Or in other words, He’d write His law on people’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). And because the hearts would be different, it would make all the difference in how those with new hearts would respond to His laws.

From 1 Peter 2:9-10, we see that God created a new nation under the New Covenant. I couldn’t think of any Scripture passages that tell us outright that God created a new world when He made the New Covenant, but for confirmation of that fact, you only have to glance at the date on a calendar. History was split into two parts because of the birth of a certain, very important historical character.  The historical character through whom the New Covenant was made.

So far, everything we’ve talked about may all be old news to you. If you were raised in a Christian home and grew up going to church and Sunday School like I did — or even if you’ve only been a Christian for a short time but if you are already a Christian — probably nothing that we’ve discussed so far will be new to you (except the rainbow thing if you happen to be a little slow on the uptake like me). You may be thinking, “This is all well and good for those who have never heard any of the basics, but I already know all this. Tell me something new.”  Today, we’re talking about the New Covenant, and this is where it all becomes new.

As I opened up the Bible and started, week by week, putting together twelve weeks of lessons from Ephesians for the small group of young women who originally did this study with me, none of the lessons I was preparing was purely academic for me. For me, every lesson in those twelve weeks of Ephesians lessons grew out of exciting, hugely-impacting truths that God has taught me in a very direct way through His Word. Either these were exciting truths He had taught me in the distant past (like, twenty years ago) or exciting truths He taught me in the recent past while I was preparing lessons for this study. Or exciting truths He keeps on teaching me, even as I’m typing these words onto the computer screen.

I have to admit that most of what we’ve looked at so far this week is old news for me, too. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard the “salvation message.”  But the “salvation message” is a very necessary place to begin because there may be those reading this who have never entered into that covenant of peace with God for the reason that they’ve never heard “salvation” clearly explained to them.  That’s one reason.

Another reason we’re starting off with the “salvation message” is because it is foundational to everything else in Ephesians (in fact, in the whole Bible).  And another reason is because it may not be as old news as some of us think.

For those of us who have been Christians almost as long as we can remember, it may be hard to imagine how the message of “peace with God” could be anything but old news. I’ve been a Christian for many years.  Yet because of a period of about five years of struggle I went through when I was around the ages of sixteen to twenty, this message of “peace with God” came to be very new news for me. Very good new news.  “The gospel” (which means “the good news”) became exciting new revelation that every Christian needs to hear! Looking back, I’m grateful for those struggling years because of the work God did in my life through them.

I’ll try to describe what my struggling years were about. As I’ve said, I grew up in the church — a good, solid, Bible-believing church (where I heard the message of salvation more times than I could count. We were extremely sound on salvation by grace through faith!) And I was saved when I was very young (what it means to be “saved,” if this is all new to you, we’ll look at in more detail tomorrow). I don’t doubt that I was saved at that young age. But somehow, I seemed to miss out on the full realization of what it is that we have “in Christ” as, I believe, is the case for many, many Christians.

When I was about sixteen (isn’t that the time to question everything), I began doing a lot of questioning. I didn’t question if God existed. I knew He did. I didn’t question if the Bible was true. I knew it was. I could see the truth of it. I’d already done all the questioning I needed to do in order to know that there is a God and that He is the God of the Bible. What I questioned was me! But not only me. Us!

I’d read the Bible. I knew that God was a Mighty Warrior.  I knew He was angry at sin. I knew He was often angry in the Old Testament. I knew He was often angry in the New Testament. I knew the kinds of things that made Him angry. Over and over, He was angry at the people who called themselves by His name, but weren’t really His people. He was angry at hypocrisy. He was angry at smug self-satisfaction. He was very often angry at the people who thought they had it all together but had missed it completely. That was frightening to me.

Was it possible I might be one of them? Could it be that God was angry at me? What was the difference between me and the people God was angry at in the Bible? The people who were the objects of God’s anger in the Bible all seemed to think they were doing just fine, thank-you-very-much. They believed they were God’s people. They looked at themselves and couldn’t see the sin that God saw. I knew what the Bible had to say about being saved, but was I even saved? If so, what was wrong with me?

But then I looked around me at the other Christians I knew, at the people in my church, at the people in any of the churches I knew, and I couldn’t see that there was much difference between them and me. Were all of us missing it? Were all of us going along on our merry ways, believing we were just fine, thank-you-very-much, but meanwhile, living under the anger of God? Were any of us His people? Were any of us truly saved?

I knew my own faults. I knew my own pride and hypocrisy and self-righteousness. I could see other people’s faults, too. We all seemed to be in the same boat. So few of us seemed to be living the kind of life I thought we should expect to be living if we were truly saved — a triumphant, victorious life. Lives that, I could see from the Bible, were lived the way they were meant to be lived.

These were the kinds of questions that would recur and torment me whenever I was quiet enough to do any thinking.

I now believe that my experience of those struggling years was not unusual. All of us, Christian and non-Christian alike, if we’re honest with ourselves, know in our deepest hearts that all is not as it should be — that we are all sinners. We can all see that we have faults. And in certain moments of self-revelation, we can begin to see how unattractive and undesirable those faults are. Or maybe an even bigger source of guilt is all the things we should be doing and aren’t (and nothing ever seems to be enough).

The general population doesn’t seem to be too worried about their own sin issues in relation to the Mighty Warrior, but for those of us who are saved, for those of us who believe we already have peace with God, there seems to be a great deal of unease.  On the one hand, we say that God has already dealt with our sin; we say that we have peace with God. On the other hand, we live as though we need to deal with our own sin all by ourselves.  We live as though God is angry at us. We may be able to admit that God loves us, but it seems to be the hardest thing in the world for many Christians to believe that God could possibly like them.

So many of us have unconsciously said to God, “I’ll trust You for salvation. But from there on in, I’ll handle it.” And our DIY make-over projects don’t end up turning us into the people we think we should be. And that leads to a life of bondage to anxiety and guilt. Why? Because we think there’s so much riding on us!

The guilt and anxiety I see in so many Christians over their Christian lives and their walks with God remind me of the experiences I went through for those five years.  God began teaching me, so directly and so gently, the principles we’ve been looking at today.  And what an effect those principles have had on my thinking.  And on my living!

Because, you see, it’s all new! It’s a New Covenant. It’s a new world, a new nation, a new law (or at least new hearts to write that law on).  “… Behold, I make all things new … ” (Rev. 21:5). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Somehow, although this principle is underscored and italicized and printed in bold all throughout the New Covenant (Testament), I still managed to miss it (I told you I was a little slow).

I remember one Christmas, after God had begun teaching me these old principles that seemed so new to me, reading the Christmas story and being blown away. It was as though I heard the angels’ words to the shepherds for the first time. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

But who hasn’t heard those words before? Who doesn’t associate Christmastime with “peace on earth”?

But we have the wrong slant on the “peace on earth” in this context. The “peace” that’s being talked about in Luke 2:14 is not peace between nations. It’s not peace from man to man. As wonderful as that would be, what it’s really saying is far more wonderful. It’s peace from God to man. It’s God’s goodwill toward men. God was doing a new thing in the world through the birth of Christ. He had created a new world.

For years I’d been living, even as a Christian, under the general apprehension of God’s displeasure. I felt that God must surely spend a lot of time being angry at me. What a revelation it was to realize that the birth of Christ created a new world — a world where peace with God is a reality for those who know Him! No fear of His anger. Just a basking in the delight of His goodwill. Toward men. Toward me! I had a new heart! I was a new creation! Not, “I should have a new heart … I should be a new creation.” No, it was a done deal! I had it! I was it! I was in an entirely different position from those under the Old Covenant who experienced God’s anger. I was not that person. I am not that person. I was under the New Covenant. It was simply the same old salvation message I’d heard countless times, but it was a revolutionary new idea, and it revolutionized my life. I still haven’t gotten over it.

This “peace with God” was the reason I talked non-stop for two hours at my captive audience (most of them had come in my car) at that first session of our Ephesians Bible study.  If you’ll read the first chapter of Ephesians, you’ll discover that Paul hadn’t “gotten over it,” yet either. I don’t believe he ever did. I bet He’s still amazed by all we have “in Christ.”

Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at how it is that we enter into this covenant of peace with God. Every covenant has two parties, and those parties both have a part in making the covenant. The main question we’ll be looking at tomorrow is, “What’s our part?” And hopefully we’ll be able to see it so clearly from the Bible that none of us ever need find ourselves in the position I found myself in during my struggling years. The position of asking myself, “Am I even saved?” It’s something we can know! And once we do know it, then Ephesians 1 is simply a description of the state we live in (whether we realize it or not). But it’s realizing it that will make the difference in how we approach our day to day Christian lives. It might not make us “better” Christians. But it will certainly make us freer ones (and I say that a freer Christian is a better Christian).

Let me just leave you for today with Isaiah 54:8-10. It’s my prayer that these words will have new meaning for you today, that you’ll be overwhelmed anew at what it means to be a dweller of the New Covenant.

With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,’ says the LORD, your Redeemer. ‘For this is like the waters of Noah to me; For as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD who has mercy on you.”

Doesn’t that blow you away? PEACE WITH GOD! For those who are “in Christ,” the Warrior has hung up His weapon!

The Great Exchange

(An Excerpt from Ephesians Plus, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

Yesterday, I said that today we’d be looking today at our part in the covenant of peace. And we will. But first we need to look at one more aspect of God’s part.

Yesterday, I said that, with both testaments, something is bestowed or given through the death of the person who made the testament. Something is also given through a covenant.  Today, let’s look first at what it is that we’re given through this covenant God wants to make with us. I’m calling it, “The Great Exchange.”

I think 2 Corinthians 5:21 is the clearest of all the Great Exchange passages. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

I have absolutely no idea how it works.  All I know is that Christ took my sin and gave me His righteousness. Somehow, through His death on the cross, the Great Exchange happened.

A couple of days ago we talked about animal sacrifice as a picture or an object lesson.  Animal sacrifice was always insufficient to make “the Great Exchange.” No amount of bull or sheep or goat blood could really take away sin, and no amount of animal blood could make a person righteous before God. (In the last half of today’s post, we’ll learn what the key ingredient was that made a person righteous before God. If that key ingredient was present and involved in the animal sacrifice, then the animal sacrifice did its job.) But what was it that the animal sacrifice was picturing?  It was picturing the Great Exchange. The death of the innocent for the guilty. The death of the righteous for the unrighteous.

And now we come to that one human sacrifice that was acceptable to God. There was only one truly righteous (perfect) human who has ever lived. His name was Jesus Christ.  And who was He, really? Why was He able to live a perfect life when the rest of us aren’t?

Again, all this will be old news for those of us to whom it’s old news, but for those of us to whom it isn’t, we need to talk briefly about who Jesus really was.

John 3:16 tells us who Jesus really is: the only begotten Son of God.

But what does it mean that Jesus is God’s begotten Son?  There’s no time today to open up an in-depth study on the subject, but essentially, it means that Jesus was both God and man.  God came to earth and walked around in human skin for thirty-three years. That is what we celebrate at Christmas — God becoming man.  The title, “the Son of God,” properly understood, means, “Really and truly God!”

Because Jesus was not only really and truly God but really and truly human, too, earlier I mentioned  one, acceptable human sacrifice. You may find it a little shocking to hear Jesus’ death talked about as human sacrifice. That’s okay. I want it to be a little shocking. Just as we’ve managed to pretty up the flood of Noah’s day, we’ve also managed to pretty up (or at least tame down) the sacrificial death of God’s Son. Most of us have heard about it so often, it’s stopped being a shocking thing.  And it should be a shocking thing.

If Jesus’ death was human sacrifice, doesn’t that raise some huge theological issues? After all, didn’t I say in an earlier post that human sacrifice was a great evil that God abhors?

I know people who find this whole issue a major stumbling block to accepting Christianity. They see the notion of God sacrificing His Son for us as repellent. After all, that’s not how fathers should treat their sons! But what they’re forgetting is that Jesus is God. God sacrificed Himself. The Mighty Warrior turned His weapons on Himself. It is repellent to sacrifice someone else’s life for one’s own sake.  Is it repellent to sacrifice one’s own life for someone else’s sake? That is an action that is the opposite of repellent. That is an action that is the most heroic action possible. And you have to remember that God’s Son (God Himself) didn’t only give His life the way many heroes have “for his country” or for those who are on His side — those who are already at peace with Him.  He gave His life for those who are at war with him because of the evil they do. What kind of warrior sacrifices his own life not just for his friends but for his enemies?  In that sacrifice, we see not only the most heroic action possible; we see the most loving action possible.

This is the “salvation message” that I kept referring to yesterday. It is the clear teaching of Scripture that it was Jesus’ death, the death of God’s own Son (God Himself in the person of the Son), that was the means of allowing God to make a covenant of peace with us. For those who enter into this covenant with Him, their sin is dealt with because of that death. The Mighty Warrior must destroy evil. But He destroyed evil by submitting to it and to all it could do to Him, and through that submission to it, He conquered it.

And through His death on the cross, He offers to take our sin and give us His righteousness — to anyone who wants it!

Again, I have no idea how it works. There are a lot of things from the Bible that make sense to me. “The message of salvation” is not one of them.  I don’t have to make sense of it to have experienced the truth of it, however.  And I have.

But I’ve said that every covenant had two parties who had a part to play in the making of the covenant. If all we’ve been talking about today was God’s part, what’s ours? How do we enter into this covenant of peace?

The only part we have in the covenant is active faith.

But before we learn a little more about “active faith” and what that looks like, maybe we should talk for a moment about this term “saved” or “salvation” that keeps cropping up. These are words Christians are fond of tossing around, but they may put you off as foreign “Christianese” words.  So let’s talk about what Christians mean by “saved” or “salvation.”

For synonyms, you could use words like “rescued” or “delivered.” When the Bible talks about being “saved,” it means to be rescued or delivered. To be rescued or delivered means to be rescued or delivered from something and to something.

An everyday situation in which we might use the word “saved” could be a circumstance like a near-drowning.  Think about what a drowning man is saved from and to.  When a drowning man is saved, he’s saved from drowning and saved back to shore. No rescuer tries only to keep a man’s head above the water and doesn’t ever worry about getting him back onto dry land.

Now let’s talk about the sense in which the Bible uses the word “saved.” In a biblical context, what are we saved from and to?  Remember our discussion on spiritual death and eternal spiritual death?  Spiritual death is our separation (through sin) from our Creator who is the only ultimate source of all that is good and lovely.  Eternal spiritual death is an eternal separation from Him.  Another name for eternal spiritual death is hell.

So we can be saved from that break in relationship with God that our sin has created.  And we can be saved from that eternal state of separation that physical death makes permanent (aka: hell).

But the reversal is that we are saved to a state of restored relationship with God by being made righteous with Christ’s righteousness.  That begins now, in this life.  Physical death only makes it permanent.  And perfect.  We call that state of being “heaven.”

So, we’re saved from hell (and its taste of separation from God that life on this earth gives us), and we’re saved to heaven (and begin to taste it here and now through restored relationship with God and His righteousness).

But now our part: what do we do to enter into that state of restored relationship?

The question was asked very clearly by one interested party in Acts 16:30.

“What must I do to be saved?” the questioner asked.

The answer was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

And for another very clear answer, let’s go back to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

So we must believe “on the Lord Jesus Christ.” We must believe in “the only begotten Son of God.”

Now the obvious question arises, “What does faith mean? What does it mean to believe?”

I like the definition, “To think to be true.”  To believe something is to think it’s true.  If I believe in the daily weather report (which I usually don’t), then I think the weather will happen the way the forecast tells me it will.

But why would God require that we accept as true a certain set of beliefs in order to be saved? Again, I believe it’s because He’s a gentleman.  He doesn’t force us into His covenant of peace. We must want to be saved.  But if we believe the truth, about Him and about what we need to be saved from and to, then won’t we want Him to save us?  It seems to me that the wanting follows automatically on the heels of the believing.

Now, why am I making a point of calling our part in the covenant that God wants to make with us “active faith”?  From what we’ve seen from Scripture (and who else would we ask?) all we have to do to be saved is believe or have faith.  And I’ve defined “believing” as “thinking a thing to be true.”

But here’s what I want us to consider. There is a difference between believing and saying.  Hopefully, most of us only say we think a thing is true when we really do. But it’s very possible to say we believe something when we don’t, in fact, believe it.  Sometimes we even fool ourselves.

How do we know the difference between saying and believing? Back to today’s weather report, let’s say it called for rain.  If I believe the weather report, what will I do when I head out the door on my way somewhere?

If I believe the weather report, unless I want to get wet, I’ll take along an umbrella or a raincoat or something similar. If I hear the weather report calling for rain but I look out and see the sunny, July weather, cloud-free as far as the eye can see, and I head off without making any preparations for bad weather, have I believed the weather report? I may say I believe it, but if I my actions say I don’t, it doesn’t matter what my words say.  And that’s my point about active faith. If it’s faith, it’s active. We act on what we believe — what we think is true. It’s automatic. We don’t have to work at it. We don’t have to try to act on what we believe. We do act on it.

Let’s get back to Noah and look at his life as an example of entering into God’s covenant of peace through active faith.  Hebrews 11:6-7 holds up Noah as an example of active faith. How do we know that Noah believed that what God said was going to happen was going to happen?

According to Hebrews 11:6-7, Noah became an “heir of righteousness” not because he did everything right, not even because he built a big boat but because he had faith in God. Still, if he hadn’t built the big boat, what would that tell us about his so-called faith in God and in what God had said was going to happen?

So, was Noah saved from the flood through his faith or through his actions?

If he hadn’t believed that there was a flood coming, then he wouldn’t have built the big boat. If he said he believed that there was a flood coming, but he didn’t build the big boat, then it wasn’t true faith. It was a “words-only” kind of faith. Which isn’t faith at all. But it all started with what he believed. He simply thought that God was telling him the truth. The only real Weatherman told him to expect rain, and he did. So he built the boat!

That key ingredient I mentioned earlier which made animal sacrifice effective for taking away sin was active faith. It wasn’t the sacrifice of bulls and goats that could take away people’s sin. There was only one sacrifice that could do that work. But in order for that sacrifice to do a person any good, he has to have that key ingredient of faith. Then, because God had commanded the sacrifice of bulls and goats, those with faith in Him acted on His commands. They didn’t have to know why they were doing it. They didn’t have to realize it was a picture of something much larger. They just had to know that God was God, that He had commanded them what to do, and then, to do it. It was still their faith that was the means of entering into the covenant with Him.  But that faith took action.

But what are the basic facts that the Bible says we must think are true in order to be saved?  We’ve seen from Acts 16:31 that we must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  We’ve seen from John 3:16 that we must also recognize that He is the only begotten Son of God (or in a biblical understanding of a “begotten Son,” that He is really and truly God.  And God means, “the One in ultimate control; the Sovereign One.”  If I believe that Jesus is God, I accept that He is really the One in ultimate control of me and my life.).  1 Corinthians 15:1-8 also tells that, in order to be saved, we must believe that Jesus died for sin, was buried, rose again, and was seen by witnesses after his death, burial, and resurrection.

Now, here’s a bit of a tricky question. If I believe that “the Lord Jesus Christ,” “the only begotten Son of God,” (God in human flesh) “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” and that “by grace I have been saved through faith…not of works lest anyone should boast …” (Ephesians 2:8-9) what sort of action will follow as the natural extension of that belief?

Do you find that a hard question to answer? I have to admit that I did. I believe that all faith produces action in some way, but when we’re talking about the faith we need in order to be saved, when we need to believe that there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, that the work’s all done for us, then what kind of an action can that faith possibly produce? If we’re believing that nothing we do can save us, then wouldn’t we do nothing? That doesn’t seem very doctrinally sound!

I think there is an action associated with saving faith, but it’s an action that we don’t normally associate with the word “action.”  All the same, it is a verb — an active verb, even.

What about resting? Or to put it another way, depending? Leaning? Putting all of one’s weight on? These, I believe, are the kind of actions that are called for in saving faith. (As a matter of fact, if we believe that nothing we do can save us, then we will do nothing … to save ourselves, that is. We may do plenty because we’ve been saved, but that will be from a different motivation.)

If I believe in “the Lord Jesus Christ,” I would say, biblically-speaking, it means that I’m depending on Him to save me. Just resting in Him. Leaning on Him. Putting all my weight on Him. Taking Him at His word that He wants to save me and that He’s done everything necessary. That’s it.

If you are trusting Jesus Christ for your salvation, then you are “in Christ.” That’s what the Bible says! Just believe it! Take God at His word.  If you are “in Christ,” then you are a new creation living under the New Covenant.  If you’re not sure what that looks like, try reading Ephesians 1. All those blessings are yours. Peace with God! What an unspeakably wonderful thing it is!