Vol. 3, No. 11
There are blessings in which both the sinner and the saint bask, courtesy of the grace of Almighty God (Matthew 5:45). These blessings are physical in nature and come upon all men alike. However, the Christian enjoys additional blessings over the sinner. These latter blessings are spiritual instead of physical and superior to the physical blessings in which all men participate. Furthermore, the extra blessings bestowed upon Christians are given to Christians exclusively. No one outside Christ can acquire these special blessings from above!
Souls outside Christ may legitimately attribute their physical blessings to God. All men should realize that the natural blessings in which we all share owe their origin not to chaotic accident but to the design of our Creator. Non-Christians, however, are wrong when they claim to possess spiritual blessings and attribute their possession of spiritual blessings to God! Even Christians saying that non-Christians possess the spiritual blessings only attainable in Christ does not make it so! Further, Christians have neither business instructing manmade churches how to grow nor extending to them open fellowship with the church for which Christ died and over which he is head.
Ephesians 1:3 decidedly identifies the location of all spiritual blessings. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." The "us" of verse three are the "saints" and "faithful in Christ Jesus" of verse one. Christians or disciples of Christ, therefore, are the exclusive recipients of "all spiritual blessings"; Christians alone enjoy all spiritual blessings! The beneficiaries of spiritual blessings are further said to be "in Christ." Hence, no one who is neither a saint, faithful in Christ Jesus nor in Christ possesses spiritual blessings. Only souls who are saints, faithful in Christ Jesus and in Christ truly receive spiritual blessings.
This context also identifies God as the benefactor responsible for the bestowal of spiritual blessings. Since these blessings originate with and are given by God, it is only reasonable that the same be received according to the precise conditions that he may (and did) enumerate. The condition upon which souls receive spiritual blessings is being "in Christ." Though mortals may try to devise other ways to get "into Christ," only in two passages does the Bible announce the one way to do so, through baptism (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3). Consequently, the many, even sincere, religious people throughout the world who have not been baptized (immersed) in water for the remission of sins or to have their sins washed away (Acts 2:38; 22:16) are not in Christ and are not the recipients of spiritual blessings.
The forgiveness of past sins must be the chief blessing. Baptism is not only the point at which one gets "into Christ" (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3), it is also the point at which one's past sins are forgiven (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21). Additionally, baptism is the point at which one comes in contact with the saving blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7; Revelation 1:5; 1 Peter 1:18-20). Christ's blood was shed in his death upon the cross (John 19:34) and baptism places one into the death of Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12).
All blessings indicate a multiplicity of blessings are afforded the Christian. So complete is the divine package of blessings bestowed upon the children of God that it neither lacks anything nor can it be improved upon. No more blessings could possibly be added to what God has already given the Christian. It is then the noble task and life-long prescription of the disciples of Christ to identify and culture these heavenly blessings that they might better appreciate and more appropriately apply them.
In spite of one's familiarity with the Scriptures, he may feel somewhat unable to comfort even brethren satisfactorily when catastrophe or death buffets them or their loved ones. Truly, of himself, neither the preacher nor any other man can effectively console the despairing saint when death visits family members. There is, however, a divine comfort and consolation that can do more to uplift the child of God from his sadness than anything an army of well-meaning people could possibly say. This comfort and consolation afforded the children of God is superior to and more effective than all earth's kind intentions and good will.
Second Corinthians 1:3-4 names God as the source and origin of divine comfort. The disciples of Christ further learn from God how to comfort others more effectively. "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." The context in which these verses appear deals primarily with comfort and consolation from persecutions and afflictions that are peculiarly incurred by Christians as they earnestly strive to serve the Lord (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
There are, though, also other areas in life in which the children of God are afflicted for which cause they should turn to God for the application of divine comfort. The Lord invites all men to find refuge in Christ, wherein are all spiritual blessings and divine comfort (Matthew 11:28-30). Paul affirmed again in the Romans epistle that our heavenly Father is the God of comfort or consolation (Romans 15:5) and in the preceding verse indicated that this consolation is available to Christians through the Scriptures or the Bible.
Divine comfort abounds from the basis of peace with God, which occurs in Christ (Romans 5:1). The peace that Christians know with God, their fellow men and themselves rests upon fellowship with God and the children of God. Hence, there exists unity and single-mindedness among brethren and between faithful brethren and God (Romans 15:5-7). Comfort and peace cause Christians to maintain a valid hope regarding eternity with God (Romans 5:2).
Divine peace is only possessed by those who are spiritually minded (Romans 8:6); to be carnally minded and yet in the world deprives one of this precious blessing. Our heavenly Father, called the God of hope, is said to fill the child of God with joy and peace and to cause him to abound in hope (Romans 15:13). The fruits of the Spirit include love, joy and peace (Galatians 5:22) and are portrayed as worthy acquisitions of Christians.
According to Colossians 1:20, the Christian peace is attained through "the blood of his cross." Recall that the blood of Christ is reached only through being baptized into his death wherein the blood was shed (John 19:34; Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12). This peace, which when sought leads one to accept the Gospel call, should also continue to rule the Christian's heart (Colossians 3:15). "Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means . . ." (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
The unique hope that the child of God knows is inseparably linked with other heavenly qualities; see above. Passages about peace (Romans 5:1-2; 15:13) also address hope. In discussing the Christian hope, the natural relationship between these qualities will become even more apparent.
First Peter 1:3, 13 and 21 show conclusively that Christian hope looks with anticipation and desire for the second coming of our Savior. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). The souls who can legitimately cherish within themselves this hope are described thus:
"Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:21-23).
The Christian hope is effected by the resurrection of Christ and belief in God who raised him. This hope rightfully belongs only to those who have been begotten of God (verse 3) through their faith in God (verse 21), have purified their souls in obeying the truth (verse 22), have a fervent love for brethren (verse 22; John 13:34-35) and have been born again by obeying the Word of God (verse 23; John 3:3-6). The heart of the Gospel message appeals to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which believing, Christians have hope (expectation and desire) regarding eternity and long for the return of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 19-23; John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Corinthians 15:23).
Hope is something in which Christians are to rejoice (Romans 12:12) and which can be found in the Scriptures (Romans 15:4). Hope is, further, the quality by which faithful disciples can endure unto the end in spite of present tribulations and temptations (Romans 5:2-5). Hope saves or helps to preserve the child of God until his death or the return of the Lord (Romans 8:24; Hebrews 3:6; 6:11). First Corinthians 13:13 teaches that faith, hope and charity (love) are the companions and wise counselors that God determined should accompany the Christian in his earthly pilgrimage to the promised land, instead of the temporary miracles of which the infant church often boasted. Hope, not the miracle, is the anchor of the soul by which the children of God can safely moor themselves and avoid the rocky destruction and death into which Satan would otherwise steer them (Hebrews 6:19).
Christian hope pertains to eternal salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8) or eternal life (Titus 1:2; 3:7), which is attainable only in Christ (1 Timothy 1:1). Hope of spending eternity with God abides within the child of God and serves to purify or keep him holy so his heavenly anticipation may someday become reality (1 John 3:2-3; 1 Peter 3:15). Therefore, Christian hope is indispensable to every soul who possesses the aspirations of pleasing God in this life and enjoying the presence of God in heaven forever.
If it were not for the grace of God, Jesus would never have come to earth and would never have shed his blood for the sins of the world. Had it not been for the grace of God, there would have been no Gospel, which through obeying sinners can have divine comfort and hope of eternity. However, because of God's love and grace, men may possess hope with confidence (Hebrews 10:19-24) when they obediently comply with the conditions of salvation found in the Gospel.
"Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work" (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
Admittedly, there are likely many more spiritual blessings than have been noticed herein that can be found in God's Word by the diligent study of the Christian. Each child of God should determine to search them out and enjoy them as only Christians can. Furthermore, spiritual blessings should be more earnestly sought than the physical things of which we all have need and regularly receive of God (Matthew 6:33). Spiritual blessings, like wonderfully pretty flowers, need to be carefully nurtured, for when either is neglected, their delicate beauty withers away.
God wants his children to have spiritual blessings; he has reserved them exclusively for his faithful disciples. Additionally, these blessings can enrich life now and greatly contribute to eternal happiness. Every Christian, therefore, should covet, secure and use the spiritual blessings that God has provided for him.
Without exception, all men are sinners (Romans 3:9-10; 3:23; 1 John 1:8). Sin constitutes a barrier between man and God (Isaiah 59:1-2), the consequence of which is spiritual death or eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). To remove the barrier of sin from between man and God, Christ died upon Calvary's cross even while man remained in the pleasures of sin (Romans 5:8). Not only did Christ come to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), but only through the blood of Christ can man be saved (Romans 5:9). Jesus Christ alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68). The words of Christ will judge all men (John 12:48). Those who love Jesus Christ will keep his words or commandments (John 14:15, 21). Jesus is also the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him (Hebrews 5:8-9).
These considerations are sufficient to cause thoughtful men to desire to become disciples of Christ. The application of the Lord's blood to the souls of sinful men is the only means through which the barrier of sin between men and God can be removed. Without coming in contact with the blood of Jesus Christ, one can neither be saved nor be a disciple of Jesus Christ. One who remains outside the blood of the Lord chooses for himself an eternity away from the presence of God.
The New Testament contains a formula for discipleship. Formula means "A set form of words for use in a ceremony or ritual; a conventionalized statement intended to express some fundamental truth or principle; recipe or prescription"1 or "A prescribed form or method; a written confession of faith or doctrine."2 These definitions variously apply to discipleship both as it should be and as men have sometimes fashioned it.
When asked, "What must I do to be saved?" we may recite a formula or plan of discipleship consisting of five steps without ensuring that the prospect fully understands the divine plan that he is prompted to accept. Lack of thorough teaching and understanding results in weak and unfaithful disciples. However, it is readily granted that a prospect for discipleship need not know all the counsel of God to be converted (Acts 8:26-39; 20:27). Further, it is acknowledged that new disciples are babes in Christ and thereby weakly (Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:2).
The five steps to discipleship or salvation are: (1) hearing the Word of God exclusively (Romans 10:17), (2) a resulting Bible faith (Mark 16:16), (3) repentance (Luke 13:3), (4) confession of Christ as Lord (Romans 10:9-10) and (5) baptism (immersion) for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Would a mere outward observance of these make one a Christian? A disciple? Saved?
Jesus Christ has the words of eternal life that when taught will produce faith, the foundation upon which the whole of Christianity is based (Hebrews 11:6). Faith involves belief in the divine Son of God and all that he has commanded man to do. How is faith produced? "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17).
Repentance is produced by and is a direct result of faith. To repent is to turn from the practice of sin because of godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10) and toward the performance of righteousness or the bringing forth of "fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Repentance is not merely feeling sorry for sins; Judas did this much but hanged himself instead of repenting. Repentance is a change of heart to do righteousness (God prescribed rightness) by which one's conduct is also ultimately amended accordingly.
Confession of Christ indicates the willingness to become his disciple and obey him in whatever he commands. Additionally, confessing Christ is the same as accepting the cost of discipleship regardless of the pain or sacrifice required, even death (Revelation 2:10). Romans 10:9 represents the initial confession unto salvation that must be characteristic of the remainder of our lives (Matthew 10:32) to maintain discipleship. The failure to do the will of Christ is to deny Jesus Christ and to make void any confession of him previously made (Matthew 10:33; Luke 6:46).
Baptism is the point at which sins are washed away (Acts 22:16) through contact with the blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7) and the time at which an alien sinner is saved (1 Peter 3:21). When baptism is reduced to a mere formality by which one can enter or join a church, it becomes void of salvation and as impotent toward salvation as a bath. As repentance and confession are outgrowths of faith, so is baptism. A failure to be baptized is a failure to believe (Mark 16:16) and a failure to attain the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
Hearing the Word of God, believing, repenting and confessing Christ are all in vain unless they lead one to be baptized or born again (John 3:3). Man cannot legitimately hope to see heaven without being born again.
Although there is a divine formula that when observed will result in salvation, a formula alone, regardless of how divine in origin, will not save man. Recitation of a formula absent of conviction and dedication will not result in true discipleship. God has not discounted his scheme of redemption nor dare mere mortals cheapen the cost of discipleship.
When the God-given plan of salvation is made nothing more than a ritual or ceremony void of understanding and meaning, it can be no more acceptable to God than pagan and heathen rites. Israel offered feasts and sacrifices that God ordained, but because the outward form did not reflect the hearts of the people, they were rejected (Amos 5:21-27).
The recipe for salvation is deficient when it is missing any of the ingredients or when it is not followed absolutely. In addition to the five steps commonly cited, there are several other elements to which the Bible attributes saving power. Either each of these various elements works together for the salvation of souls or the Bible contradicts itself and is false. The Bible is inspired of God, infallible and true. Therefore, we know assuredly that God's recipe for salvation includes all the ingredients by which he has through his Word said will save sinful men. The following items illustrate that there are several things by which souls are saved and that both deity and man participate in the salvation of souls.
Love (John 3:16)
Grace (Ephesians 2:8)
Mercy (Titus 3:5)
Gospel (Romans 1:16)
The Blood of Christ (Revelation 1:5)
Our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5)
Bible Faith (John 8:24)
Repentance (Acts 17:30)
Baptism (1 Peter 3:21)
Obedience (Hebrews 5:8, 9)
Purity (Revelation 22:14)
Faithfulness (Revelation 2:10)
Love (1 John 2:10)
Hope (Romans 8:24)
Works (James 2:24)
Endurance (Matthew 10:22)
Confessing Christ (Romans 10:9-10)
Being Born Again (John 3:3-5)
Laying Aside Evil (James 1:21)
Preaching (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21)
Calling on the Name of the Lord (Romans 10:14)
Knowledge of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15)
These represent the formula and cost of discipleship and constitute the recipe to acquire and maintain true discipleship. There are no shortcuts by which one can attain or maintain discipleship. Each aspect of the plan of salvation must be taught, learned, believed and lived continually. Salvation is not attributed to any formula or equation apart from the complete adoption of God's will for us. Men are to direct their entire lives by his divine will. God's plan for saving man is not a magical incantation that when spoken mystically turns one into a Christian. Instead, his plan demands of men a different way of life that is only characteristic of the disciples of Jesus Christ.
1 Anonymous, “Formula,” Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 329.
2 Anonymous, “Formula,” The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, p. 384.