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Chapter 8 - Salvation and Kingdom
For many people the relationship with God consists of learning what has to be done to secure a place in heaven. While the relationship God desires to have with man is so much more, it can be helpful to examine the means by which eternal life is achieved.
In a word, it is by faith. This is not the same as simply 'believing'. The Greek word pistis carries with it an understanding of trust that is somewhat lacking in the English word 'believe". One illustration that has been used to highlight this difference is a description from the 1920s of a man who sets up a daredevil act to push a wheelbarrow over a tightrope stretched across Niagara Falls. A bystander is asked if he believes that the man can be successful. The man answers that he believes it can be done. He is then asked if he wishes to ride in the wheelbarrow.
We are told that Abraham was considered righteous because of his faith (trust).
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. - Galatians 3:6
This was hundreds of years before the law was given to his descendants. One problem with the law was that it was easy for some to think that by keeping the law, they had made themselves righteous.
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: - Luke 18:9
Jesus appears to say that one can earn salvation;
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. - Matthew 19:17
Here we might see that the 'keeping' of the commandments is the expression of a trust in and reliance on the promises of God. There was an emphasis on works for the nation of Israel, not to achieve salvation, but to demonstrate ones faith. This was described by James in his letter to the twelve tribes.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. - James 2:18
John the Baptist also indicated that works had an ability to verify faith.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 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. 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. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: - Matthew 3:7-11
For those who were faithful in life, there was a reward of eternal life to be obtained at the resurrection of the just.
And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. - Daniel 12:2-3
This was what could be expected for having one’s faith in God lived out according to the law. However, there was to be a change brought about by a new covenant for Israel. In speaking of the Old Testament (covenant) saints, the writer of Hebrews indicates that they had not received what would be now made available.
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. - Hebrews 11:37-40
The 'better' thing that was made available was to receive salvation immediately. By the grace of God faith can result in a 'regeneration' of that which was lost at the first sin. Jesus told Nicodemus that one needed to be 'born again' to enter the kingdom. For most of Jewish history regeneration was seen as something that would happen at the resurrection of the just. Jesus describes immediate regeneration and salvation available through trust in him.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. - John 5:24
This introduced two paths of salvation, although both are based on faith. The first path was primarily for the nation of Israel. It was a faith demonstrated through the keeping of the law. Salvation would be obtained at the first resurrection.
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD. - Lamentations 3:26
The second path was to obtain salvation immediately upon trusting in Jesus.
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, - Ephesians 1:13
Entrance to the kingdom required one to be regenerated. This could be obtained at the first resurrection or immediately upon trusting in Jesus. However, until the kingdom was accepted and received by the nation of Israel, kingdom existence would be limited to the internal.
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. - Luke 17:20-21
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