Thursday, January 19, 2012

On What Basis Can Christians Hope To Live Forever?

When I was first posed this question, for some reason it struck me odd. My knee-jerk response was to immediately say, "The Scriptures." What about you? How would you answer that question. Even if you feel it is a private matter, at the very least how would you answer it to yourself?

The reason I was not happy with my initial response was because I felt it was shallow. It implied that mere written words or some ominous bound volume impressed me. Scripture does impress me, but it is not my "hope." So then I thought deeper about it. But even my second answer seemed to miss the mark. What was it? "Christ's ransom sacrifice." After all, even Jesus himself said that he came to give his soul: "a ransom in exchange for many." So without that ransom, we wouldn't have a hope. (Matthew 20:28; 1 Cor.15:14)

But still, I felt as if I were missing the point. That is, until it hit me between the eyes....
I remembered a scripture that is over-used by many. For years you'd find it graffitied all over public areas. Yup, John 3:16. But what caught my attention was the first two words, "God loved..." Yes, God has a deep love for mankind. How deep? The verse continues "that he gave his only begotten son."

Would we, could we love people enough to sacrifice one of our children? This is truly love much greater than ours.

Indeed, God's love and commitment toward mankind--that IS something people CAN relate to-- heart-motivated love--this love is always a basis of hope. God's love explains why we have the scriptures chock full of his promises; it explains why we have the ransom that will unburden us from Adamic sin; it explains why we have this beautiful planet to live on.

But just because we are offered this hope through a loving gesture of God, does that mean it takes no obligation on our part? Still continuing in John 3:16, the verse itself answers that question, saying: "everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life." (NWT, AMP, NIV) (While the NIV makes no attempt to clarify "believe on," at least the AMP helps the reader appreciate that more than some vague acknowledgement of Christ's existence and purpose is necessary. See "Note" below.)

What does "exercising faith" mean? Paul used some different words to help us understand more clearly. Writing to the those forming the "Hebrew" congregation he wrote that life or eternal salvation was offered to those that obey him. Hebrews 5:9 (AMP, NIV)

So obedience is the bottom line. Obedience is the way we exercise, demonstrate, make evident our faith. Merely believing is not obedience--the demons believe and yet, as James put it, they shudder! So then, our hope of living forever is based on God's love; administered through the ransom; contingent on our obedience & reinforced through the yet to be fulfilled promises in the scriptures.

I could think of no better conclusion than Paul’s words at (Romans 15:13) “May the God who gives hope fill you with all joy and peace by your believing, that you may abound in hope with power of holy spirit.”

In the Publisher's Forward of the AMP, the following insight about the word rendered "believe" (in this example as found in Acts 16:31) is offered: "... the Greek word which twenty-two New Testament versions out of twenty-four consulted render 'believe.' They do so because there is no one English word that adequately conveys the intended meaning. Actually, the Greek word used here for believe is 'pisteuo.' It means 'to adhere to, cleave to; trust, have faith in; to rely on.' Consequently, the words, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ....' really mean to have an absolute personal reliance upon the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior." (End quote.) Thus, the NWT's chosen rendering of "exercising faith" demonstrates the active (not passive), current-tense, continuously-demonstrated, feature of real faith.

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