A major obstacle to understanding Eternal Security lies in the fact that we don’t realize our relationship with the Lord exists on more than one level. One level is our Union with Him. It’s the eternal unconditional bond we have with the Lord that guarantees our salvation. It’s based on what we believe. Fellowship is another level. It pertains to our relationship with Him in the here and now that determines the flow of blessings we enjoy. It’s based on how we behave. Some passages of Scripture seem to contradict others because they’re addressing these different levels. In this study, we’ll make the difference clear and resolve these apparent contradictions.
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Okay, in this study then we’re going to look at the nature of our relationship with the Lord, and you’ll find it’s more complex and has a great deal more depth than you might have thought. I’m going to speak of four different facets, if you will, of our relationship. My objective in doing this is for you to understand why Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10 (which we’ve covered in the past few times) have been so universally misunderstood.
It’s not just incompetence on the part of teachers; it’s not just a lack of understanding of the true nature of our relationship. It’s a very formidable and complex subject, and lots of people don’t get into it because they’re trying to make sure they don’t confuse anybody or else they’re confused about it themselves, and they gloss over it.
As we learned in Hebrew 6, the context of the chapter was the difference between the Old Covenant and the New, and we saw that again in Hebrews 10. So, we’re going to take some time tonight and look more deeply into that difference and get a greater picture, if you will, a more comprehensive view, of what our relationship with the Lord is all about.
So, let’s start with the simple part and let’s remind ourselves, what does it take to be saved? How do you go about being saved? I don’t mean like the steps you go through or anything but, what does the Lord require of us in return for saving us? And we’ll go first to the passage that almost everybody in the world can quote by heart. It’s in John chapter 3 and it’s in verse 16.
John 3:16 says:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
And so, what does He say there? There’s a sentence where He says, “God so loved the world.” First of all, you understand “the world” means everybody; He didn’t just do this for believers—which will mean a lot to you a little later on. He did this for everybody.
In fact, the word that’s translated world there is actually cosmos. It’s the word that we think of—when we think of that word, we’re thinking of the universe—the whole cosmos, not just the Earth. He didn’t say that the Lord loved the Earth and the people in it; He said the Lord so loved the world, the cosmos! You know, if there are other people on other planets and they sin, then God sent His Son to die for them, just like He did for us. And then He said, “Whoever would believe in Him.”
Whoever would believe in Him, that means you have the choice of believing that or not. He sent Him before you made a decision about Him, and then you had the choice of believing it or not, didn’t you? Isn’t that the way it reads to you?
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
All right, so in that sentence we get the condition for salvation, which is belief. Believe in what? Belief in what the Lord Jesus came here to do for us. And of course, what He did was, He took upon Himself all of our sins, and He went to the cross, and He was executed in our place so that we wouldn’t have to die. So, that’s what we believe, right? That’s what we believe.
And the proof in that as Paul says in Romans 10:9 and 10 is that, if you believe in your heart that Jesus rose again, that God raised Him from the dead, then you’ll be saved.
And what that means is, you have to believe in the Resurrection because, why did Jesus die? He died for all of our sins. God can’t exist in the presence of sin, can He? So, if there were any sins left on Jesus that He didn’t die for or that weren’t covered by His death, where would Jesus be today? He’d still be in the grave. He certainly wouldn’t be seated at the right hand of the Father, because He wouldn’t be able to be in the presence of the Father.
So, the fact that Jesus rose again is proof that you will. That’s why you have to believe in the resurrection, because that’s the proof that your sins were taken care of. Because if all of the sins of the world were piled upon Him and then He went to the cross and died for them, like it says in Colossians 2:13 and 14—it says He forgave all of our sins by taking them to the cross, and He nailed them there and died for them, and then He rose again signifying that His death was sufficient for every one of our sins.
Now, remember we talked in the past about all of our sins, right? And that means two things. That means everybody’s sins; it also means all of each of our sins, okay?
He died for everyone’s sins. For the sins of the world, as it says in John 3:16. But then He died for every sin of every believer. Because you see, when He died for your sins how many of them were still in the future? All of them. So, He died for all of our sins. In Colossians 2:13 it says He forgave us all of our sins because of this. So, all of your sins, past present and future, covered at the cross. Not only yours, but everybody else’s, covered at the cross.
That’s what it takes to be saved. And later on, Jesus clarified that a bit, when you get to John 6—and we read this about a hundred times, so you probably know this one by heart, too.
John 6:28 and 29:
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
Whenever Jesus was asked, “What does it take?” He always said, “Believe.” The answer is always “Believe” to the question, “What does it take?” Believe; you have to believe that He went to the cross for you.
Well, first of all, you have to believe that you’re a sinner, right? And you have to believe that you can’t save yourself. And then you believe that He went to the cross for you, and saved you; if you were the only one who needed it, He would have done it. You have to believe that. Then He rose again, proving that He’d done the job.
So, all of your sins, the minute you believe that, all of your sins, covered by the blood of Jesus. I’ll show you some passages that say that when you accepted that, you became in God’s view a whole, new person; the old you does not exist anymore. In His view, you are brand new. It’s as if you never have sinned.
Now, a lot of this is going to sound impossible to you because you’re not God. You see, we can’t figure it out. We know we don’t deserve all this to have happened to us, but we don’t have to. Because our worthiness is not an issue. Our belief is what’s at issue.
Okay, so that’s what it takes to be saved.
Now, when you agreed to let this happen, then something that you probably don’t realize also happened. And that is, that you were brought into the family of God in such a way that it’s difficult for us to understand.
You see, in John 1:12 he wrote that whoever believed this was given the authority by God to become a child of God. That means when you believed in Jesus, you were given the legal right to call yourself a child of God and you were legally made one of God’s children. That’s the first thing that happened—you became part of His family; you are one of His children now.
In Galatians and in Romans, Paul wrote that because you’re a child you are also an heir. So, you’re an heir to God’s estate. You have a legal right to God’s estate—a piece of it anyway, there are lots of us who have a right to it. You have a legal right to that. So, you became more than just “a child of God” you became a legal entity in God’s family, and you are entitled to an inheritance. So that’s part of what you have.
Now, let’s look at Ephesians 1:13. I’ll show you how much deeper it goes even than that. Because up until now we’ve said that we’re God’s child, and we are.
We’ve said that we have a right to an inheritance there, that’s right.
Every child has a right to an inheritance in his Father’s estate, so we know that. But it goes beyond that; what does it say in Ephesians 1:13?
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.
So, when did this happen? It happened when you heard the Gospel. That’s what started it—you heard the Gospel.
And then it says:
When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,
And so, you heard the Gospel and believed it. Those are the two things, there’s that belief again, right? You heard the Gospel and believed it, and:
you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,
The Spirit of God,
who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
And so, what does that mean? It means that when you believed you were marked with a seal, the Holy Spirit, who is a deposit. You know, I’ve told you before that the legal term there is an earnest; it’s like an earnest money deposit. It is money that was put up to guarantee a purchase.
And so, the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you now, is a deposit that God put there to guarantee you that He would fulfill the promises He made to you. He said, “If you believe in Me, here’s what’s going to happen to you; you’ll have eternal life.” Okay, that’s the promise He made to you is eternal life. And then, at the moment you agreed, He put down a deposit on you. That deposit is His Holy Spirit, whom He sealed within you, guaranteeing that He’s going to follow through on the promise that He made to you.
So, God is now not just your Father, He’s not just someone that you will inherit from, He now has become a part of you, and you have become part of Him. You understand that? You are no longer separate from Him. He is sealed within you because the Holy Spirit of God is God. We won’t take the time to do this tonight, but you can prove from Scripture that God the Father, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have a place inside you, and they dwell in you. You’re no longer a separate entity now. You’re one with Him.
What did Jesus say when He was praying in John 17? He says to the Father, “I in You and them in Me.” So, He’s the One who connects us all. If we’re in Him and He’s in the Father then we’re in the Father, you see? That’s something I call Union. We have Union with God. And that’s something that has been guaranteed to us that can never—never—be torn asunder.
There is nothing anywhere in the Scriptures that even would allow a person to suppose that it might even be possible for us to be disinherited, because in order for that the Holy Spirit would have to be unsealed from us, pulled out of us.
There isn’t any Scripture that talks about that, no matter how bad. There’s lots of Scripture that talks about bad behavior and how God doesn’t like it, but there isn’t any Scripture that says, “You do this and God’s gonna break you open and He’s gonna pull His Spirit out of you and leave you splattered on the ground.” It doesn’t say that anywhere because it can’t happen. It doesn’t happen. It will not happen. That would break His word! Because when did He seal you? When did He give you that guarantee? Was it after you proved yourself worthy? No, it’s when you first believed.
So, you’ve got that part, right? That’s Union; you have union with God. That’s something that can never change. Look at 2 Corinthians 1—there are lots of these that we can look at, but I just want you to see the clearest ones.
2 Corinthians 1:21 says, at that moment:
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.
Who keeps you faithful? Not you. God. It is God who “makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.”
And here’s how He did that:
He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
It’s the same phrase again. He did that to guarantee the promise. He guaranteed that He’d follow through on that. Nothing you can do to change that; nothing you can do to stop that. Nothing you can do to reverse that. It’s been guaranteed! He anointed us and He set His seal of ownership on us.
We’ve talked about the fact that this is equivalent to a brand. He branded you, like a rancher would brand his cattle to prove they were his. You’ve been branded so that God can prove you’re His. And then, He sent His Spirit to dwell within you to hook you together, to tie you to Him. Irrevocably tied to Him, you are.
That’s Union. Union is eternal and it is unconditional. The only thing you did to make that happen was to believe in what He had previously done for you.
You see, He put Himself out there first, right? He did that first. He put Himself out there first and then He said, “Okay, whoever wants to believe in this, whosoever chooses to believe in this will never perish but have eternal life.” He didn’t say, “Because you are good, I’m going to do this for you.” He didn’t say that. Jesus didn’t die so that bad people would become good.
He died so that dead people could live. Got it? That’s Union. That’s the first facet of your relationship; Union. Think of that, and don’t ever forget it—you have Union with God. No matter what happens to you, no matter what you do, no matter where you go, there is no circumstance or condition that can change this.
You have Union with God, and you have that forever. It’s eternal and it’s unconditional.
In Romans 8 Paul put it nicely. Verses 38 and 39.
Romans 8:38 and 39:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That covers a lot of stuff, doesn’t it? I mean, it says neither death nor life—can’t happen when you’re alive; can’t happen when you’re dead.
Neither angels nor demons—they can’t alter this.
Neither the present nor the future—nothing you do in the future can alter this.
No power can change this.
And, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.
That’s a pretty clear statement; I think it’s pretty ironclad.
Jesus made one even greater in John 10:27.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Note the words, “no one.” Who’s included in the word, no one? Everyone, including you. You can’t even do anything about it. You can’t jump out of there.
no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
And now that you’re in His hands, you’re one with Him, okay? That’s Union; that’s part of our relationship.
And, if you only knew that much about our relationship, you would understand why Hebrews 6 and 10 cannot be talking about tearing you apart, because Jesus has gone to extreme lengths here to describe the relationship that is not subject to any kind of outside interference. There is nothing that can stop what He has done for you. It’s forever. There’s nothing that can change that. Nothing you can do; nothing anybody else can do can ever change that. And He’s promised that He would never change that.
Union, do you understand that? Okay, if you only had that, you could understand why those two passages can’t have anything to do with our salvation.
Okay, this part we’ve been through. So, if that’s so clear, if these passages are so clear and if we understand that, then how did it ever happen that people could interpret some parts of the Bible otherwise?
You know, I get emails from time to time; not as many as I used to, but I get them from time to time saying, “But what about this verse?” “Doesn’t this verse say something different?” “What about that verse?”
And my answer is always, “Listen, this is the Word of God; if this was coming from some man you might have reason to doubt, because men change their minds and they’re not reliable—women are like that too, by the way. But God is not like that. When He says something, He means it; He is reliable.
So, first of all you have to understand that if this is His Word, if you believe that this is God’s Word, then you can’t have these contradictions. He can’t say something in one area and something else in another area. And, if we think it does, that’s a problem we’re having with interpretation. It’s not a problem God had with the describing, you understand? We took something out of context.
We’re going to look at some of those tonight that have been taken out of context, and I’ll show you how, as soon as you dig into them a little bit, then you understand what they really mean.
So, the first thing is if God says He is sealed within us as a deposit that guarantees our inheritance then that should have been an end to the discussion; there should be no more there. Well, there’s more in the Bible than just that, isn’t there? The Bible talks about our behavior, too, doesn’t it? But you know what? It never talks about our behavior in the context of our union with Him. It never talks about that.
In fact, in those places where it does talk about behavior in the context of our union with Him it always talks about the fact that He is faithful and that He is not going to go back on His Word, and He’s not going to do something different than what He promised.
You know, we have an extreme example of that in the Jewish people. Did they do anything to deserve to lose their relationship with God? We would say, yes. Look what they did: they dragged His Name through the mud, they started worshiping idols, they gave His land away, they did all kinds of stuff. But He said, “No,I’m sorry—I promised.” In Ezekiel 36 He said, speaking to the Jewish people, “It’s not because of you I’m doing this, it’s for the sake of My Name; My Name’s at stake here. I made a promise to you. No matter what you do I am going to keep My promise because it’s My Name that’s at stake.” So, we have that example to go before us.
And the same is true of our relationship here. But see, that’s only one facet of our relationship. That’s the most important one because that’s the part you can never lose; nothing can ever happen to that.
But there’s a second component to our relationship and it has to do with—well, there are two things it has to do with.
The first thing it has to do with is how we live our life after we’re saved, and you might know that all the verses that talk about our behavior relate to that part of our life with God after we’re saved.
Also you know, when I say to you these things to you, I’m not talking about the whole world; if I was you wouldn’t be able to dwell here anymore, you’d have to leave. He said, “I’m talking about you guys, each other. There are certain things you shouldn’t be doing to each other.”
And this part of our relationship is characterized by a couple of different places.
I’m going to ask you to look at 1 John 1:9 first. I get a lot of mail about this verse, but it says what it says. 1 John 1:9, Let’s start with verse 8 just to get into it.
1 John 1:8:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
He’s talking to us here, John was writing to the Church. He says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” So, don’t ever get the idea that when you got saved you stopped sinning, and don’t ever let anybody else tell you that happened to them. Because it hasn’t happened to anybody; nobody has stopped sinning when they got saved.
Christians are like everybody else, we sin. I love what, I think it was Chuck Smith from the Calvary Chapel says. He says, “We’re not sinners because we sin. We sin because we’re sinners.” See the difference? It’s our nature to be a sinner. We can try all we want. We can work as hard as we want. There’s no way to stop. The bar has been set so high there’s no way to meet the standard, and any failure to meet the standard is called sin.
And so, if we claim that we no longer sin, he says we’re deceiving ourselves and the truth isn’t in us. Then he says in verse 9:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Now you’re saying, “Wait a minute, I thought He forgave all our sins at the cross!” Yes, He did, in the eternal sense. In the sense of our eternal destiny, all of our sins are paid for and we have a place reserved for us in Heaven that nobody can take. So, why is John saying that we’ve got to confess so we can be forgiven and purified from our unrighteousness? If it doesn’t affect our salvation, what does it affect?
It affects our relationship with God. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a good example of this. When the son wanted to go off and do his own thing the Father said, “Okay, go. Here’s your inheritance, take it. Go. I wish you wouldn’t, but it’s your choice. Go.”
Did that boy ever stop being the son of his father? And did the father ever stop being the father of the son? No. But they didn’t have a relationship for a while, did they? They were still father and son, but they didn’t have a relationship. And the son was off doing his own thing, making his own decisions and his own choices without regard for the father’s feelings about it. It didn’t work out very well for him, so he came back. And when he did, he was immediately welcomed because he had never stopped being the son of his father.
When his older brother complained about this, he (the father) said, “Wait a minute. This is your brother. You know I love you and would do anything for you. But your brother, he was dead and now, he’s alive; that’s something worthy of celebration. He was gone, now he’s here!”
He never stopped being the son, the father never stopped being his father. They had union, you see. They didn’t have a relationship for a while because of the son’s behavior. It’s the same way with us. This is why John is telling us we have to confess.
This part you’re going to hear right now, this is the part that many of you have never heard before, and many places where you should learn this don’t teach it. I would go so far as to say most of them don’t teach it. And, because of that, surveys show that over 90% of born again believers cannot be distinguished in their lifestyle from the heathen’s. Over 90% of born again believers cannot be distinguished in their lifestyle from the heathen; they act just like the rest of the world. And many of them, at least in the spiritual sense, live defeated lives. They can’t make anything happen. And here’s why. He said, “If we are faithful to confess, He is just and faithful to forgive, and will purify us from our unrighteousness.” He’ll purify us, that means He’ll bring us back. He’ll clean us up again. And He’ll make us part of that relationship again.
Our sins have driven us away. They haven’t driven Him away. They drive us away. You know, it’s our guilt over our sins that drives us away. Remember how we spoke in the Hebrews 10 passage about how our guilt just builds up and builds up and builds up until we believe that we no longer deserve to be saved? It’s not that we aren’t—it’s just that we believe that we don’t deserve it, and we start being more fearful of the judgment than we are grateful for the blessing.
And that was the whole meaning of Hebrews 10. It’s the fact that because we have drifted away, and we don’t do anything to maintain the relationship; we start to believe that maybe it doesn’t exist anymore. It’s not because of anything God did, it’s because of what we did. And the reason we did it is because we are only taught—what we are taught in our Christian life has to do with the union we have with God, right? We’re born again. We’re saved. We have a place in Heaven. John 3:16 applies to us.
And we hear about that, but we don’t hear about the other part. We don’t hear about the part that maintaining our relationship with God requires confession. And I don’t know why we aren’t taught this because there is no risk at all in the confession. The minute you confess you’re forgiven, and the sin is forgotten. It’s like it never happened. And you’re restored to righteousness. The minute—no matter what it is, no matter how many times it takes.
Peter says to Jesus, “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Seven? Maybe seven? That’s a big number!” And, it was a popular number, you understand. And even the disciples knew the significance of the number seven. So, Peter said, “Up to seven times?” And what did Jesus say? “Not seven. Seventy times seven.” I think He was still speaking hypothetically because I don’t think He was telling you to count. And when you get to 489 tell the guy, “Hey—you only got one left.” [laughing] No, He wasn’t saying that. He was giving them, “The number is so much bigger, Peter, than you think, if you want to maintain our relationship.”
By the way, in that chapter, Mathew 18, He goes on to tell the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. And in that parable, He demonstrates that the servant who was forgiven everything refused to forgive a fellow servant for a little thing, and then his relationship was suspended until he made things right. His relationship wasn’t severed—there is never a point in that parable where he talks about the guy no longer being the servant to the master, but the relationship was suspended until he made things right.
That’s the way it is with us. When we refuse to forgive one another, first of all, we are committing a sin because we are required to forgive each other. In the second place, we put a barrier between us and God at that point. Our unwillingness to forgive puts a barrier between us and God, and it can actually suspend that relationship. Like it did with the Unmerciful Servant, like it did with the Prodigal Son—until we make things right. Once we do, all is forgiven, all is forgotten, and we go on like it never happened.
But, how many Christians do you believe think that the time they confessed at the foot of the cross is the only time they ever have to do it? And so, they live the rest of their life in sin and they never confess and ask for forgiveness again. How many Christians do you think believe that way?
How about most? Because they’re all taught, ‘You’re forgiven. You came down. You’re born again. You’re forgiven. All the sins of your life are forgiven.’
Yes, they were. In the sense that the union can never be broken. But, that’s one facet of the relationship.
What about the Fellowship? What about the intimacy? What about the things that God wants to do with us and through us? All that can get suspended. The blessings that He has in store for us can be put on hold until we make it right again.
You know, John 15:5 and 6 offers a great example of this. Let’s read it:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
The only times I ever heard anybody teach on this, I heard them teach in the context of salvation, that you can walk away. And if you do, you get burned up in the fire; you’ve lost it. But that’s in conflict with the other things we’ve heard, isn’t it? Where He’s promised that He’s put His Spirit within us as a promise to guarantee?
So, what is the passage saying?
The clue is in this: there’s one word here, he will bear much fruit. When fruit is used in a symbolic sense having to do with our lives, what does it mean? What is fruit? Well, it’s the gifts we are given and the way we apply them, right? And we have these things that we can do, and they bear fruit, right? And the fruit is that they make a good impression and they draw others to want to know more about Jesus, they bring the message of the Gospel in a thousand different ways. This is how we bear fruit.
Okay, listen to this. Salvation bears how much fruit? None; salvation is not a fruit-bearing experience. The world was not made better on the day you were saved, except for you. None of the rest of the world was made any better. There was no fruit born out of your salvation.
Fruit is born because of what we do after we are saved. And so, right away you know that this is not a salvation passage, because a salvation experience is not a fruit-bearing experience. Doesn’t do anybody any good. But what we do afterwards, can. And that’s what Jesus was talking about.
He says, “I’m the Vine, you’re the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” You see, a branch can’t bear any fruit when it is disconnected from the vine. A branch that’s disconnected from the vine, He says down a little ways later, is picked up and thrown away and burned in the fire because it has no value. But a branch that stays connected bears much fruit.
Now let’s handle this next word.
“Anyone that does not remain in Me, is like a branch.” Whenever you read that word “like” you know He’s making a comparative statement. He’s not saying that we are the branch, He said we are like the branch. And what happens to that branch? It’s picked up, thrown into the fire and burned, which means it has no more value and it doesn’t accomplish anything. It does not do what it was intended to do, and so it does not accomplish anything. And that’s what we’re like when we don’t remain in Him.
When our Fellowship is broken, we don’t remain in Him, we bear no fruit, and we’re like a branch, thrown in the fire and burned. Because that’s all the value we have left; none. In order for us to have any value to bear any fruit, we’ve got to remain in Him and Him in us. We’ve got to maintain the Fellowship, right? You can’t break the relationship, the union is there forever; it’s the Fellowship that we’re concerned about.
When we go off on our own—and let me hasten to warn you that if you go off on your own, even though you produce great works done on your own they are of no value. Because it doesn’t matter what you do out of your own mind, and under your own effort, and in your own strength; none of that is worth anything. It is only what you do in Him and through Him that counts. You may have a wonderful idea about how to fix the world and you may implement that idea. You may achieve some success with it. And you may receive lots of accolades from people around you. But if it didn’t come from Jesus and you didn’t do it through Him, it has no value at all in the Kingdom. None. And when you get up there and expect fifty thousand crowns for all you’ve done, you’ll get none, because it wasn’t the Lord’s idea.
Even the good works you do in your own strength are worth nothing in the Kingdom. This should put to rest all the talk, what about all the wonderful people who aren’t believers and they do all these wonderful things, aren’t they going to have some recognition when they stand before God? And the answer is, no, they’re not. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done if it wasn’t done through Him, in His strength. It wasn’t His idea. It’s worth nothing. The recognition they got on Earth is all they’re ever going to get. They won’t get any more when they get to Heaven for it because it wasn’t done in the strength of the Lord. What did He say? He said, “Apart from Me, you can’t do anything. It doesn’t matter what you undertake. Apart from Me, you can’t do anything.”
See, this is about our relationship, isn’t it? This is about maintaining Fellowship with God, this is about the power that we have when we stay hooked to Him. Listening for His direction, working in His strength, giving Him the glory. This is what is worth something in the Kingdom, because this is what makes us a faithful servant.
If you hired somebody to work in your kitchen and cook your meals and do your dishes and everything and then you went away for a couple of weeks, and when you came back you found out your servant had painted your white house blue—and it looked beautiful; you just don’t happen to like blue, and you didn’t want blue—how much credit would you give the servant for having done that? None! You’d be upset about it! “Who told you to do this?”
But it looks good, it’s a pretty color. It wasn’t done through you, was it? So, it has no value to you. That’s the way it is. We go off on our own, we accomplish these things we think are great—we’re shocked to discover they have no value in the Kingdom.
This is what 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 is all about, the rewards we get in Heaven. Some of our works are precious stones and precious metals and others are not—they are wood, hay and stubble. What determines whether those works are gold, silver and precious stones or whether they are wood, hay and stubble? We don’t know. And so, in the next chapter, in verse 5 (1 Corinthians 4:5) Jesus said, “Therefore don’t judge anything until the appointed time.” He said, “I will judge those things. And I will look into the hearts of everyone and I will expose their hidden motives. And then people will get the praise they deserve.”
What do you suppose He meant by that? He meant, “I’m the Vine. You’re the branches. And you don’t have any right to judge what another branch is doing whether it’s good or bad. Only I can do that because I can look into their heart and I can see whether the motive was pure. Whether I put that there for them and whether they in obedience acted upon it. If that’s the case, then it’s gold and silver and precious gems. But if they went off on their own and did it, it’s going to get burned up in the fire.”
And then He closes by saying the person will still be saved . So, this doesn’t have anything to do with their Union with God; this has to do with whether they remained in Him and Him in them. It has to do with the intimacy of the relationship. It has to do with their Fellowship with God. Do you understand that?
So, what is our responsibility as believers? It is to listen for the Lord’s direction and when we hear it, to follow. It doesn’t matter how it works out—it’s our listening and our follow through that’s going to be judged. That’s Fellowship.
So, we have Union, and we have Fellowship.
Now, there’s a limitation to Fellowship, because it only has to do with things on Earth. Our Fellowship with God has to do with our relationship in the here and now. These are things that we accomplish. This is the fruit that we bear as believers on Earth, between the time we come to faith and the time of the Rapture. That’s where Fellowship is limited, it’s an Earthly thing. It’s the here and now.
Union is eternal, and unconditional. Fellowship is temporal, it happens here in time. And it’s conditional upon behavior. mostly upon our motives that govern our behavior. That’s Union and Fellowship.
Okay, we’re halfway done. Are you with me so far?
Okay, now you understand—most people aren’t taught this. In fact, I have people who read what I’ve written about this and they call me up and question it. “Why should we have to confess? Jesus died for all of our sins! What are you, some kind of a works guy? Is this a conditional thing we’ve got? You’re saying on one hand we can’t lose our salvation but on the other hand you’re saying we have to confess every time we sin! What happened? There’s a disconnect there!”
Well, no there isn’t. They don’t understand the two facets of the relationship.
The Union, which is eternal and unconditional based on what He did, and the Fellowship, which is temporal and conditional based on our motives as we do things.
Union and Fellowship. All the passages in the Bible that talk about your salvation are passages that talk about Union. All the passages that talk about how you should behave, are passages that talk about Fellowship.
Because the only time you must confess is when you misbehave, right? If you followed all the instructions that Paul gave you about behavior, you wouldn’t have to do much confessing because you wouldn’t be doing much that required it. But you understand even Paul said he couldn’t meet the standards he was teaching us, and the harder he tried, the worse it got. So, we have to maintain that Fellowship. We do it with confession. We confess. “If we’re faithful to confess, He is just and faithful to forgive and will purify us from all our unrighteousness.” And then, everything is fine again.
He’s the Vine again and we’re the branches again and we can bear much fruit. Do you understand that?
Okay, now there’s two more things you need to know.
In this relationship, we were also given a gift. Now, what is a gift? Does a gift have to be earned? No. A gift is an expression of generosity, or love, or some other affection or something in the heart of the giver. The recipient does not have to deserve it, does not have to have earned it. The giver gives it out of his heart and the gift is unconditional. He never takes it back. When you’re given a gift, it is yours, and the giver doesn’t take it back. And so, we have a gift. It’s unconditional, given out of love and it lasts forever.
So, let’s look at a place where it tells us whether we’ve received any gifts from God.
We’re going to look at one place because I’m not talking about spiritual gifts here. These are things that happen after we’re saved, and we’re going back and looking at the salvation experience. What does it say in Ephesians 2:8 and 9? You probably know this by heart.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
So, what was the gift here? Specifically, it’s the faith that got you saved, that’s the gift. The faith was a gift from God—it wasn’t even your faith. I’ve had people write to me and say, “I don’t know if I had enough faith when I asked to be saved.” Or, “I don’t know if I had the right kind of faith when I asked to be saved.”
See, these are questions that people who have spent their lives without confessing begin to conclude when they get old and grey. They start to question: Did I really get saved back then? Did I really do the right thing? Have I been kidding myself all this time, all these years? Did I have enough faith when I asked? Did I have the right kind of faith when I asked?
They are afraid, you see. Like it says in Hebrews 10, they have a “fearful expectation of judgment.” Hebrews 10 doesn’t say they are going to get judgment, it says it’s what they expect to get, because of all this guilt that they’ve built up all their lives through all the sins they’ve committed.
And don’t start thinking to yourself “Well, wait a minute, that’s not me! I haven’t sinned.” We just read 1 John 1:8 didn’t we? [laughs]
So, the faith itself was a gift from God.
Now if God gives you the faith to be saved when you asked to be saved, if He gives you the faith to believe it—is that faith sufficient? Yes. Is it the right kind of faith? Yes. Because salvation, you see, is an unbelievable thing; it takes a whole bunch of faith to believe God would do something like that for us. Most people when they first get saved don’t understand it enough to know how much faith it would take, or else they’d never ask. They’d say, “Gee, I don’t have that kind of faith, to believe that He would save me.” So, He gives you the faith.
That in itself is a gift from God.
not by works, so that no one can boast.
We have no right to be saved. We have nothing that commends us to God. There’s no report on us with a little notation at the bottom that says, “Dear God, I recommend this guy. St. Peter.” There’s none of that, is there? We have nothing that commends us to God. The very faith that brings us to the cross is a gift from Him. He gives it to all who start to think, “I need to ask for a Savior.” Once they make that decision in their mind, “I need to ask for a Savior” He puts the faith in them, so they’ll have the courage to ask.
It’s a gift. A gift that’s not earned. It’s given out of love and never rescinded. That’s a gift. When you give a gift to somebody you give it out of love; it’s not earned, and you never take it back. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a gift. It would be a loan. All right? It wouldn’t be a gift.
God doesn’t loan us salvation. He gives it to us, freely. A gift.
Now, we also have something else that comes from God, and that’s called a prize. We have a gift, and we have a prize.
Now, prizes are not like gifts, are they? A prize you have to qualify for, right? And you have to win it, you have to earn it. And in fact, is it in 2 Timothy where He says, “If you didn’t earn it you have to give it back”? Let me see if that’s where it is. Yes, 2 Timothy 2:5. It says, “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.”
So, the victor’s crown—if an athlete is going to go into a race and wants to win the crown, he’s got to do it fair and square, right? He’s got to earn that crown by winning the race. So, a prize is something you have to qualify for, and you have to earn.
Now in addition to the gift God has given us, we also have the opportunity to qualify for and earn prizes. Look at 1 Corinthians 9. I’ll show you what I mean because he’s going to put more emphasis on this in 1 Corinthians. When he wrote to Timothy, he had already written 1 Corinthians and so he was reminding Timothy about what was going on here.
Let’s look at 24.
1 Corinthians 9:24:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Okay, that’s pretty clear, isn’t it?
None of the Olympic athletes are happy just to have qualified for the race. None of them says, “Well I can go home now. I qualified. That’s what I came to do. I qualified.” They all want to win the gold, right? That’s what they are there for, they’re there for the gold. Qualifying is just a step.
As we’ll see here in this passage, Paul is talking to believers. They qualified when they became believers. You can’t run in this race until you have qualified to be a believer. So, this is a race for believers.
He says in 1 Corinthians 9:25:
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
So here he’s competing for a crown, and he’s likening us to the Olympic experience. He’s writing to the Corinthians—by the way, and in his day, the Corinthian games were bigger than the Olympiad. The Greek empire was on the decline, and its peak was several hundred years earlier. And the Olympics,which was the Greek national competition, was already in decline. And these Corinthian games were actually more popular. And so, Paul uses this example several times. The Bema Seat Judgment that we will stand before that he mentions in 1 Corinthians 3 is from the “Bema seat” which was the judges stand in the Corinthian games.
That’s where the victors were awarded their crowns. The crown was a crown of ivy, a wreath. It was called the stephanos; it was the crown of the overcomer, or the victor. It was different from the other word for crown in the Bible, diadem, which is a crown for royalty which only Jesus wears. Our crowns are called stephanos. They are the crowns of overcomers. His crown is the diadem, the crown of royalty. So, it was at the Bema seat in Corinth where these crowns were awarded, and they were awarded to the victors.
I had the opportunity a few years ago to go there. They’ve done some excavation in the athletic field and the Bema seat is there. It’s exposed; it’s a marble thing and you go and stand before it and the judges stood behind it and they awarded that crown as you stood before them.
You know, the modern awarding of the medals at the Olympics is the modern example of that. Same thing happened. But it was really there, and they really had it, and it had the words inscribed in marble (in Greek, of course) on the front of the marble piece.
But it was a beautiful moment for me because I was standing in front of the Bema seat as I will again one day. But then when I do it will be the real one and I’ll be awarded prizes that I have worked for, competed for, and am deserving of. Who knows what they’ll be; I’ve always said that I’ll be just happy to be there because, for me, qualifying was a big deal! So, whatever I win there is kind of frosting on the cake!
But Paul is saying, “Don’t be happy just to qualify. Run as if you are going to win the prize!” He said, “These Olympic athletes—look at the energy and the effort they devote to preparing themselves to win these prizes.”
And he said—you know in his day, it was an ivy wreath that in a few weeks wilted away. He said, “But when we do these things, our crowns last forever!” So, he says, “Run in such a way as to win a crown.”
He says in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27:
Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
He says, “I’m in training here too, and I’m going out here.”
Now, the big difference between the race we’re running and the race the Olympians run is, they only have one winner. They’re competing against everybody else. Who are we competing with? Ourselves. Every one of us can win these crowns; we can all do it. The new us is basically competing against the old us, right?
If we are in Christ, we’re a new creation. Our salvation is assured. God looks at us as if we’d never sinned at all. But here, we can win these prizes.
Now, in the things we’ve talked about where Fellowship is concerned, they talked about Fellowship being about things that happen to us here in this life, right? Temporal and behavioral.
In other words, we can improve our life by staying in fellowship with God and giving ourselves to Him and following His directions and being obedient to His call, putting away all of our plans for ourselves, all the things we think we’d like. We put ourselves in His hands. We don’t conform to the world anymore, and we follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our life. And in obedience to that we have a much better life than we could create for ourselves.
These crowns are not for here, these crowns are for Heaven. We compete for them here, and they’re based on things we do here, but there are rewards that come to us there. That’s the difference between staying in fellowship and getting blessings and running the race to become victorious.
In fact, this verse here, speaks about the crown—the everlasting crown. This is one of five crowns that are mentioned in the New Testament. And they are all for Eternity. None of them is due us here. They are all due us there.
So, along with the gift, we received the faith to be saved. We become qualified now to live our lives in such a way to win prizes that will be awarded to us after the Rapture. And so, they are eternal in nature. And they are not what you think they are because Heaven is not like Earth. Aren’t you glad about that? [laughing]
So, this crown here in 1 Corinthians 9—this is the crown of victory. You’ve heard the phrase “victorious life” or “victorious living”—that is an effort to achieve this kind of a crown, the crown of victory.
There are some others. Look in Philippians 4:1. I can’t remember if I wrote these in order or not so we may be skipping along throughout here a little bit. Philippians 4:1.
Okay, Paul has been speaking here in Philippians throughout chapter 3 and into 4 about this very subject. And in fact, if you look back at Philippians 3:13 – let’s start at Philippians 3:12 to get onto the context here.
He says in Philippians 3:12-14:
Not that I have already obtained all this,
He’s speaking of the power and everything that comes from our faith.
or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
In other words, he’s saying, “I’m not perfect yet.”
But one thing I do:
This is a powerful memory verse:
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
He’s already saved, but he wants more. He knows that the victorious life entails so much more. And so, he says, “It doesn’t matter what I did yesterday. What’s important is what I’m doing today and tomorrow.” And he says, “I’m going to press on toward that goal. I’m gonna try and win the prize.”
The prize he’s talking about here is the same one as in 1 Corinthians 9—the victorious life. He wanted to live victoriously. He wanted to live a victorious life. Most Christians live defeated lives. He wanted to live a victorious life.
And, you understand that this has nothing to do with worldly standards. The victorious life can be won by the person with the most modest means, as well as by the one who has everything. It’s living what’s called in some circles, the exchanged life. Being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and being guided by the Spirit into this new life—this life of victory over the things of this world.
And that’s what he was talking about; he wanted to win that prize. You see, that verse is a key verse in the concept of “can we win prizes?” You hear these things about everybody saying, “Well, we’re all going to be equal up there.” Some people think we’re all going to be the same age. Some people think we’re all going to have brown hair and blue eyes. People think crazy things about that. And they also think everything is going to be exactly the same for everybody.
Well, let me tell you this: the worst will be better than you can imagine. So, don’t be thinking deprivation here; the worst will be better than you can imagine. But we do have opportunities to win prizes for things that we do, and Paul mentioned that. So then, he’s talking to them and urging them on, to live more victorious lives.
And when he goes on through to verse 17 and through to the end of the chapter, talking about how they can transform their lowly bodies, so they’ll be like His glorious body and so on, in Philippians 4:1 he says:
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
And so, Paul felt that his crown was going to be the reflection of their willingness to take this Gospel and achieve a victorious life as he was trying to do. We call that the Crown of Joy.
Doesn’t it do your heart good when you turn somebody’s life around by introducing them to Jesus and showing them how to overcome some of the hardships and some of the difficulties and some of the problems in their life? And how you talk to them about the peace that we have because of what’s coming? And the fact that this is not the important life. The next is the important one.
And doesn’t it do our heart good when we see somebody’s life change because of that? Doesn’t it bring us joy? That’s the Crown of Joy. Paul was looking forward to winning the Crown of Joy because of the impact that he’d had through the Gospel in the lives of others.
How about 1 Thessalonians 2:19; we’re going to hit that one next. 1 Thessalonians 2:19. Here he’s saying that same thing again:
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?
So, he’s saying this to the Thessalonians as well. Their life was a reflection, in his view, of his teaching, multiplied by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In 2 Timothy 4:8—in verse 7 he says—this is Paul again:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness,
This does not mean what you think it is. Listen to what it means:
which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
The Crown of Righteousness goes to those who long for His appearing. Who can’t wait for it, who long for it, who yearn for it; that’s the Crown of Righteousness.
In James 1:12 he writes:
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Persevering under trial.
In verse 2 he says:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
And then in verse 12:
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
So, we have these prizes. Now there’s more than this, you understand. Jesus said, “Don’t store up treasure on Earth, store up treasure in Heaven.” This is part of our treasure in Heaven. The things that we do in our Christian walk that bear fruit, that demonstrate the Gospel, that shows other people what it means to live a life devoted to the Lord—these are things that bring us treasure in Heaven.
So, we had the Victor’s Crown, the crown of the victorious life in 1 Corinthians 9:25,
We had the Crown of Joy in Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19,
We had the Crown of Righteousness in 2 Timothy 4:8,
And the Crown of Life in James 1:12.
These are crowns that are mentioned there for us. Prizes, if you will.
Okay, so what do we have? We have these four things now that we have to consider in our relationship with the Lord.
First, we have Union. It’s eternal; it’s unconditional. We got it on the day we first believed. Our eternity was guaranteed at that moment before we’d done anything good or bad in our new lives. Union.
Then we have Fellowship, our relationship with the Lord in the here and now, staying hooked in to Him. He’s the Vine, we’re the branches. The vine gives sustenance to the branch, right? You cut the vine and branch asunder and the branch will die. The vine will keep on growing, but the branch will die because it’s lost the source of its sustenance. He’s the Vine, we’re the branches. When we stay in Him, we can accomplish great things and bear much fruit. Remember, salvation is not a fruit-bearing experience. It’s what we do after we’re saved that determines whether we bear any fruit or not.
We have a gift that we’ve been given—the gift of faith. The faith is not of ourselves, it comes from the Lord. And it’s not because of anything we did—it’s a gift of love. It’s unconditional, it’s eternal. He never takes it back. It’s there forever.
And we have these prizes, these eternal rewards that come to us from things we do with our life as a believer.
You see, your very first job on Earth was to get saved. That’s the primary purpose of your life, get saved.
Once you’ve done that, the secondary purpose is to bring glory to God. And we do that by staying hooked to Him and by hearing the voice of the Spirit leading us in the direction that produces great benefit, and let’s the world see the advantage that comes from living a life devoted to the Lord. You see, nobody gets sold into the Kingdom, right? Nobody gets debated into the Kingdom. Nobody gets manipulated or coerced into the Kingdom.
People come into the Kingdom willingly because they see what the Kingdom offers and decide they want it. We are all evangelists in the sense that our lives demonstrate this. With more power than any words that we could use, people look at us, see what we have, and they say, “I want some of that for me.” And then they ask, “How can I get that?” Now you’ve been an evangelist. It’s not because you wrote a great tract and put it under thousands of windshield wipers in parking lots. It’s not because you’re a silver-tongued speaker who can just convince anybody of anything, and sell ice cubes to the Eskimos as my dad used to say. It’s not because of that. It’s not because you’re a great debater, or persuader or convincer or great salesperson. It’s what you say by the way you live that makes you an evangelist.
These are things that have value in the Kingdom. This is how we produce much fruit. This is something that can not be gotten in any other way.
So, from these passages in Hebrews that are so hotly contested among people who argue whether or not they have to do with our salvation, we can see that a lot of the argument comes from the fact that we really don’t understand what our relationship with God is. We don’t understand how deep it goes. We don’t understand how certain it is and how immutable it is. And we especially don’t understand what we’re supposed to do once we have it. How, when we stay hooked to Him, we can produce much fruit.
So, remember these four words: we have Union, we have Fellowship, we have a gift and we can have a prize. And these constitute the four facets of our relationship with God.