The salvation message was secured by Jesus. The salvation message was declared by angels and proven to be reliable. God Himself bore witness to the salvation message and validated it with signs and wonders. The question from today’s Bible reading is, “Are you drifting from your salvation? Are you neglecting this great salvation message?”
How would one go about neglecting a great salvation like the one provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection? The Greek word that’s translated neglect means, “to pay no attention to”. (Hebrews 2:2) The writer of the book mentions “drifting away from” the message. (Hebrews 2:1) The word drift has to do with gradually giving up one’s belief. Both of these ideas are related to each other. I don’t know of anyone who woke up one day and decided to shipwreck their faith, to walk away from a deeply-committed faith. It just doesn’t happen.
A long time ago, my dad and sister and I were floating with an inner tube at the beach. We enjoyed playing around a little until we realized that we had drifted much further out than we had planned. In fact, the lifeguards had grown concerned and began blowing their whistles. As we tried to swim back toward shore, we realized that we had been caught in a rip current. Thankfully, it wasn’t a strong one! But getting back to shore required a lot of hard swimming against the current. We didn’t plan to get out so far. But we weren’t paying attention to our surroundings. We had drifted away.
Because of our fallen condition, our natural inclination — our natural bent — is to not be interested in the things of God. It takes work to maintain your faith. It takes a conscious effort to maintain your faith.
It’s like trying to create a garden in the middle of a wild field. Just digging some holes in the ground, dropping in a few seeds, pouring on a little water one time won’t cut it! You have to dig up the weeds by the roots. You have to add the right amount of the right kind of fertilizer. You have to add the right amount of water. And you have to do it in the right temperature for the kind of seeds you’re planting.
Maintaining your salvation takes work. It requires spiritual disciplines like reading your Bible, praying, sharing your faith, worshipping and fellowshipping with other Believers, giving of your time, talent, and treasures to your local church fellowship. If you are not actively pursuing these spiritual disciplines, you will drift away.
Does that mean that you can lose your salvation? The Bible consistently teaches the security of your salvation is guaranteed by God Himself. If you have a legitimate salvation, you cannot lose it. In fact, the likelihood of losing a legitimate salvation is as likely as God the Father walking away from the Holy Spirit, since the Spirit is the downpayment (earnest money) toward your ultimate salvation and glorification. (Ephesians 1:14)
But all of this presupposes a legitimate salvation in the first place. Just because you walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, or were baptized doesn’t mean that you have a legitimate salvation. One of the marks of having a legitimate salvation is a desire to maintain it.
If you made a decision for Christ and nothing has changed in your life, you need to go back and see if you were truly saved. What changes should happen? Do you have a desire for the things of God? Do you have a desire to grow closer to God? Do you feel uncomfortable sometimes when you read things in the Bible? Things that go against the way you live and the choices you make?
Note that these are heart questions, not behavior questions. Yes, your behavior will change. But behavior change alone won’t save you. And there’s the rub. Only God can make changes in your heart.
Ask God to do a transforming work in your heart. Ask Him to change your desires and attitudes. As you do this, practice the spiritual disciplines. And watch your heart and behavior change.
We finish reading through Acts with today’s Bible reading. We find Paul and his companions shipwrecked on the island of Malta. To keep the prisoners from swimming to shore and escaping, the soldiers considered killing the prisoners, but the Centurion wanted to save Paul. Everyone survived; even those who couldn’t swim made it to shore by holding onto parts of the ship.
The people of Malta welcome the survivors and built a fire so they could warm themselves. Paul collected a stack of sticks to add to the fire. A venomous snake latched onto Paul’s hand. The Maltese believed that Paul was guilty of some kind of heinous crime and the snake bite was his punishment. But Paul shook off the snake and didn’t swell up; he didn’t suffer any ill effects from the bite so the people believed he survived because he was a god.
The chief man on the island was Publius. His father was suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul visited Publius’ father and miraculously, instantaneously healed him. Dr. Luke then tells us that others on the island brought their sick relatives and they were cured.
Dr. Luke’s description of what happened is very important for us. He distinguishes between the instantaneous, miraculous healing performed by the Apostle and the curing that he did as a physician. The Greek word Dr. Luke employed is the basis of our English word, therapy.
The strong application from this story is that when we are sick, we should seek God’s healing. We should also seek medical help if God sovereignly chooses to not heal in a miraculous way. Many Believers choose to only pray, believing that God is obligated to heal His children. Many Believers choose only seeking medical help because they don’t believe that God heals in miracles anymore.
Both of these extreme positions are wrong. Nowhere do the Scriptures tell us that God will cease using miracles. So we can assume that we should pray for God to miraculously intervein. At the same time, God has given us foods and medicines as well as medical professionals who can use these to bring about therapy for restored health.
There should be no shame for seeking a miracle. And there should there be no shame for seeking medical help. If a doctor prescribes medicine or medical devices, take them and thank God for His provisions.
Well, things finally come to a head in today’s Bible reading. The Judaizers have raised such a ruckus that the church has its first council, the Jerusalem Council, to codify how the church should handle their first major problem. The problem: Does a new convert to Christianity have to be a good Jew to be a good Christian.
It seems like everywhere the Apostles go, an unfriendly crowd of Jewish religionists follow and cause problems. One of the major problems they create is to raise doubts as to whether submitting to the Jewish Law is necessary for a new Christian convert. (Acts 15:1) At first, there really wasn’t an issue since all of the new converts were all Jewish.
As the Gospel message spreads, Gentiles are converted to Christianity. Some Christians with Jewish heritage look down on the Gentile converts and tell them that if they really want to be good Christ-Followers, they have to submit to the Jewish Law, including the rite of circumcision. It’s just a cut of a little bit of skin. That’s all. Right?
The problem isn’t the cutting of skin. The problem isn’t the ritual. The problem comes down to asking the question, “Is Jesus enough to make fallen people right with God? Or is there anything else we should add to give us a better standing before God on Judgment Day? That really is the question!
The reason the question is so crucial is that if there’s anything that can give a person a right standing before God — in addition to Jesus — was Jesus’ atoning sacrifice really enough? And the reason this question is so important is that if something can be added to make us right before God, did Jesus really have to die in the first place? Is there something we could have done apart from Jesus that would cause God to look favorably on us.
See, the reason these questions are so important is because it forces us to answer the question of how badly were we affected by the Fall to begin with.
Scripture seems to indicate that we were so deeply affected by the Fall that we have nothing to contribute to salvation at all. (Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 14:3) Theologians call our Fallen Condition, Radical Corruption since our corruption goes to the root of who we are. In fact, one theologian rightly noted that “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” (Jonathan Edwards)
The question answered by the Jerusalem Council is still applicable today. Is Jesus enough to give lost, Fallen people a right standing before God? Or do people have something they can contribute, something that can make them look better when they stand before God on Judgment Day. And if there is, did Jesus waste His life … and death?
The basic questions come down to the heart of the Gospel message. If people can do anything to earn God’s favor, then words like grace and mercy are meaningless. They’re meaningless because if people can earn God’s favor, then God’s favor is wages paid to deserving people. Therefore, God is obligated to pay salvation to those who earn it.
On the other hand, the Bible consistently teaches — from beginning to end — that each human being who has ever lived has failed to live up to God’s standard of righteousness. (Romans 3:23) And each human being who has ever lived is an enemy of God (Romans 5:10) and deserving of death and eternal separation from Him. (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-9)
Yeah, I’ll take free grace over earned wages any day! How about you?
In today’s Bible reading, Paul and Barnabas flee persecution when they learn that both Jews and Gentiles in Iconium want to kill them. They come across a man who has been lame from birth and Paul tells him to stand up. When he does, the people of Lystra think that Paul and Barnabas are gods. The priest of Zeus tries to offer sacrifices to them and they quickly tell everyone that they are men just like everyone else there. (Acts 14:8-18)
The reason the people of Lystra think Paul and Barnabas are gods is because they don’t know any better. They have never heard the good news of the Gospel. Their polytheistic society didn’t know that there is only one true God and that these men were simply messengers. But they misunderstood the signs and wonders that God used to validate their message (Acts 14:3) and acted accordingly.
Shortly after this, the Jews of Iconia and Antioch come to Lystra and stone Paul, leaving him for dead. The Believers gather around him and he gets up and leaves for Derbe the next day with Barnabas. Later, they circled back and built up the churches and appointed local elders in the churches.
Now, I’m painting with a very broad brush here, but miraculous signs and wonders like Dr. Luke describes here aren’t observed as much these days — at least in Western society. I believe that God still operates in the miraculous realm. But most of the “big stuff” happens on the mission field, on the cutting edge of the mission movement where God uses the signs and wonders to draw attention and validate His message as He did in the book of Acts.
It’s very important to note that Jesus warned against making too much of the miraculous. In fact, in one of the scariest passages of Scripture, Jesus says that knowing Him is more important than commanding demons (Luke 10:20) and “doing the deal” (Matthew 7:21-23).
So the question is, do you know Him? If not, I’d love to introduce you. Drop me a line and let’s talk!
Today’s Bible reading is about Saul’s conversion. The man who had authority from the High Priests to persecute Christians (Acts 9:2) becomes a Christian. So miraculous and radical is his conversion that he begins to preach that Jesus Christ was Who He claimed to be: God’s Messiah.
Other Christians weren’t convinced. They had heard that he was out to get them and would put them in jail. But Barnabas told the story of Saul’s conversion to the Apostles in Jerusalem. (Acts 9:27)
What was it that made such a difference in Saul’s life? Why would such a devout Pharisee make such a change of worldview and begin to preach that which he had been so zealous to persecute? It’s clear that God did a miracle in his life. And when he surrendered his life to Jesus, he knew what he was doing. He saw in his Bible that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy and that Jesus was God in the flesh.
What about you? How has your life changed since you became a Christian? If you’re like me, you’ve been a Believer most of your life. You don’t remember much about your “BC Days”. But if you understand the Fall and how deeply you were affected by it, you know that even being a “good person” isn’t sufficient to give you a right standing before the Holy God.
You may not remember your “BC Days”. But how much is your life being transformed day-by-day? If your conversion is real, your life will reflect an ever-changing reality of Jesus living in and through you. Your life will look more and more like Jesus over time.