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Do you want a stronger faith? Would you like to learn more about God's word? You don't need to wait for a miracle. The Bible teaches that "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17). The following studies are built to guide you through God's word and to provide a basic knowledge of what God has said to man. Fifteen scripture-filled lessons await you! You will begin "in the beginning" with the creation and work through the issues that affect your soul today - sin, grace, obedience. . . By the end, you should know enough to make preparation for eternity.
"In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).
It is no accident that God is the subject of the very first verse of the Bible. That He exists is the basic truth upon which all reality depends. Without God there is nothing. From the viewpoint of the Biblical writers, the existence of God needs no proof. There is overwhelming evidence of His existence and activity on every hand. "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead. . ." (Romans 1:20). Further, He "left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17).
Difficult as it is for our finite minds to grasp, God has neither beginning nor end. In the words of the Psalmist: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou are God" (Psalm 90:2). He is, Isaiah says, "the hihg and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity. . ." (Isaiah 57:15). God therefore is not only outside the limitations of time but also free from all change. Heaven and earth, the Psalmist declares, "shall be changed: but thou are the same, and thy years shall have no end" (Psalm 102:27). Moreover, God Himself declares: "I am the Lord, I change not" (Malachi 3:6).
Consequently, there is abiding security, Moses tells us, only in Him who is timeless: "the eternal God is thy refuge" (Deuteronomy 33:27). On the other hand, it is futile to seek security in the ever-changing things of earth and time, "For the fashion of this world passeth away" (I Corinthians 7:31).
God is not limited by space. "Behold," marvels Solomon, "the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee" (I Kings 8:27). Neither is God confined to any place. Know and consider, urges Moses, "that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath" (Deuteronomy 4:39). In awe David asks: "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou are there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me. . ." (Psalm 139:7-10).
"Do I not fill heaven and earth? Saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24). On hearing this scripture a puzzled child asked, "If God is everywhere, how is there any room for us?" The answer, of course, is that God is not a material but a spiritual Being. His presence does not exclude our existence but rather makes in possible: "For in him, we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
All things, past, present, and future, are known to God. By the mouth of the prophet Isaiah He proclaims: "I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done" (Isaiah 46:9-10). The writer of Hebrews adds: "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13).
No though is hidden from Him, "for the Lord searches all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts" (I Chronicles 28:9). God, the Psalmist acknowledges, is "acquainted with all my ways" (Psalm 139:3), and "my sins are not hid from thee" (Psalm 69:5). Again, the Psalmist says: "Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite" (Psalm 147:5).
Beyond what God has revealed, then, there is for our finite minds "no searching of his understanding" (Isaiah 40:28). No wonder the apostle Paul exclaims: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33).
The power of God is limitless. He is therefore described as "the Lord God omnipotent" (Revelation 19:6). Job confesses: "I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from thee" (Job 42:1-2). The totality of God's power is indicated by the following: (1) Nothing exists without Him. He is "the great God that formed all things" (Proverbs 26:10); (2) Nothing can thwart His purposes. He "doeth according to his will. . . and none can stay his hand" (Daniel 4:35).
NOTE: While God's power is without limit, it must be remembered that He cannot use that power in any way contrary to His own character. Thus when Jesus says, "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26), He means all things that are morally right. It is, for example, "impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18).
Something of the character of God may be found on virtually every page of the Bible. Here, however, a few brief references must suffice.
It is "God our Savior," writes Paul, "who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:3-4). God sent His Son to provide men salvation from the consequences of sin. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. . ." (I Timothy 1:15). Further, God sent messengers to proclaim this good news. Regarding his own commitment to proclaiming the message, Paul says: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).
Abraham long ago posed a vital question: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). Indeed He shall! David is emphatic: "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether" (Psalm 19:9). In view of the fact, then, that God is an absolutely righteous Judge, it is certain, as Paul insists, that He "will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath" (Romans 2:6-8).
So it is not surprising that Paul, toward the close of his own fruitful life, could say with all confidence, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (II Timothy 4:7-8).
It is impossible to avoid a decision about God. Simply to ignore Him is as much a decision as to deny His existence, and carries the same fatal consequences. His "fingerprints" are all about us. His voice, moreover, continues to sound forth from the Scriptures, calling upon men to believe in Him. "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder to them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6).
The Bible describes sin in a variety of ways. It is, for example, to miss the mark or fall short of one's moral duties. It is a characteristic failure of man. In Paul's words: "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23). To sin is to do evil--i.e., to do that which causes pain and sorrow. Conduct of this sort was characteristic of those who rejected the message of Christ. The "loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).
To sin is also to wander from the truth. Hence James say: "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death..." (James 5:19-20). Again, to sin is to commit wrong or injustice. "But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done..." (Colossians 3:25).
But however many ways it may be described, or whatever forms it may take, sin is in its most basic definition the violation of Divine law. "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4).
Jesus tells us that sin begins in the heart, the moral well-spring of man's being. He says: "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23). James, too, deals with the origin of sin. But he also outlines the course it runs to its termination. He writes: "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth for death" (James 1:13-13).
The injurious effects of sin are to be seen all about us. Yet there are those who prefer to ignore its evident ravages or even deny its reality. Even so, no amount of denial can make sin go away.
Man is incapable of providing the means for saving himself from the consequences of sin. Since he has sinned against God, only God can provide the means of pardon. This He has graciously done in the gift of His Son, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sin" (Colossians 1:14). Paul elsewhere expands upon this theme. He remarks: "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly... For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Romans 5:6,10).
In view of the costly sacrifice Christ made for the pardon of our sins, the writer of Hebrews asks: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation...?" (Hebrews 2:3) There simply is, Peter makes clear, no other escape from sin's everlasting ruin besides God's provision in Christ. He says: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
John the Baptist has described Jesus as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). The does not mean, however, that salvation is unconditional or universal. It is conditioned upon "the obedience of faith" (Romans 16:26; cf. Romans 1:5). Jesus called for this obedience of faith when He instructed His apostles: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:15-16).
The obedience of faith is also expressed in repenting of one's sins. In Peter's words: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38). Further, obedience includes confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:10).
When one complies with these terms he is pardoned of his past sins and begins a new life committed to faithfully serving God. Hence Paul says: "But now being made free from sin, and become servants of God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (Romans 6:22).
Life is filled with choices, and choices have consequences. But no choice is of greater consequence than one's decision about sin. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
In Genesis, the "Book of Beginnings," Moses writes: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness..." (Genesis 1:26). God is not physical in nature. Instead, as Jesus tells us, "God is a Spirit" (John 4:24). The "image of God" in man must therefore signify the spiritual nature God has given him. Man's likeness to his Creator is to be seen primarily in his personality, intellect, and moral constitution.
The Lord, Moses says, is "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (Numbers 27:16). And the writer of Hebrews informs us that God is "the Father of spirits" (Hebrews 12:9). Thus with regard to their origin, all men are called "the offspring of God" (Acts 17:29). Moses further writes: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). This verse lays stress on the fact that man is also endowed with a physical nature. God formed man's body from the elements of the earth and formed "the spirit of man within him" (Zechariah 12:1). As the present dwelling of the human spirit, the physical body in therefore called "our earthly house" (II Corinthians 5:1).
The fundamental reason for man's existence is indicated by Solomon: "The Lord hath made all things for himself" (Proverbs 16:4). John expresses essentially the same idea: "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created" (Revelation 4:11). Paul writes: "For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever, Amen" (Romans 11:36). "All things" obviously includes man. God created man for Himself, for His pleasure. Further, what God has said of Israel may also be said of every man: "I have created him for my glory" (Isaiah 43:7).
Man, Moses revealed, ranks above the animal creation and has been given dominion over it. He writes: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Genesis 1:27-28).
Though given dominion upon the earth, man is nevertheless ranked below the angels. David muses upon humanity's place in the Divine order of things and inquires: "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast make him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of they hands..." (Psalm 8:4-6).
The essence of man's duty is a reverence for God expressed in obedience to His will. Moses puts it this way: "Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him" (Deuteronomy 8:6). Jesus, referring to the Hebrew scriptures, says: "for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Matthew 4:10).
Elsewhere He expresses man's obligation in terms of love. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 22:37-39). "Let us hear," says Solomon, "the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man" (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Man has woefully failed to fulfill his duty. Speaking of the disobedience of men in ancient times, Paul says: "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Romans 1:21). It is a sad fact that the disobedience of the ancients has been repeated in each succeeding generation. Hence the apostle further remarks: "For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another" (Titus 3:3).
Solomon, moreover, affirms the disobedience of all men: "There is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not...Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions" (Ecclesiastes 7:20,29). Paul also recognizes this universality of disobedience when he says: "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). The prophet Isaiah sums up the matter thus: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6).
All of the evils in the world are either directly or indirectly the result of man disobeying God's will. One consequence of disobedience is death and the suffering and sorrow that goes with it. Regarding the fruit of the forbidden tree, God warned Adam: "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). Adam partook of the fruit and brought death not only to himself but to all his descendants as well. So Paul writes: "Wherefore, as by one sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men..." (Romans 5:12).
Another consequence of disobedience is alienation from God--i.e. the loss of His favor and fellowship. Thus, reminding the Colossian Christians of their former state, Paul says: "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled" (Colossians 1:21). But the ultimate consequence of disobedience, if it is not rectified, is eternal ruin. For the Lord, Paul tells us, shall be revealed from heaven, "In flaming fire taking vengeance of them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (II Thessalonians 1:8-9).
Man is utterly powerless to save himself from the consequences of his disobedience. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him" (Romans 5:8-9). It is therefore Christ who is said to be "the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Hebrews 5:9). For this reason Paul can boldly say: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth..." (Romans 1:16).
In the Hebrew letter we read that "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). At the day of judgment, the Lord "will render to every man according to his deed" (Romans 2:6). In Jesus' own words: "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28-29).
From the beginning of the race, man has preferred his own way rather than the will of his all-wise Creator, invariably suffering the consequences of his self-will. No one has stated better than Solomon this lesson so often illustrated and yet seemingly so hard to learn: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12).
Sometime ago there was a popular bumper sticker which read: "Grace is not a blue-eyed blond." With a touch of humor this quip caught the eye and then left it to the reader to identify grace. Grace, of course, has a variety of meanings. The bumper sticker, however, in its roundabout way was referring to the grace of God. And that is our focus here.
Just what is the grace of God? Basically we may describe it as God's disposition of kindness expressed in acts of favor or benevolence. Thus, for example, Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that God purposes to "show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 2:7).
Luke informs us that Jesus grew "strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him" (Luke 2:40). Scripture in no way suggests that Jesus did not merit this grace. To the contrary, He did indeed merit such favor because He "did no sin" (I Peter 2:22); because He perfectly fulfilled the will of God.
However, no other man has ever thus merited God's grace, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Sin merits God's wrath. Yet "He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103:10). The withholding of punishment is itself therefore an expression of unmerited favor, as are all of the countless other benefits God bestows upon a sinful race.
Not only is the sinner (every man) undeserving of God's grace, there is no way he can make himself deserving. He cannot earn God's blessings. And if he could, they would then be his due, not a matter of unmerited favor. Hence Paul says: "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt" (Romans 4:4). To what man is God indebted? "Or who hath first given to him, and it shal be recompensed unto him again? (Romans 11:35). The implied answer is that God owes no man anything. All of His benevolence is therefore surely a bestowal of grace.
In the manifold grace of God, there are certain blessings which in general are bestowed upon all mankind. Among the most basic are these:
There are many gifts of grace that are reserved to believers, i.e., blessings which are conditioned upon "the obedience of faith" (Romans 16:26), and which are bestowed "in Christ." Space limitations permit us to mention only a few of the most notable of these unmerited favors.
Peter admonishes the recipients of God's grace to conduct themselves "as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (I Peter 4:10). In the same vein Paul writes: "Moreover it is required of stewards, that a man be found faithful" (I Corinthians 4:2). It is thus clear that with gifts of grace there also comes responsibility. The steward shall be held accountable for his use of the gifts entrusted to him. In order to be found faithful, then, the steward must "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18).
Is falling from grace a real possibility? Indeed the Scriptures plainly point out a number of things which can cause one to fall.
God is countless ways is kind to all men, even to "the unthankful and to the evil" (Luke 6:35). In bestowing these kindnesses, however, God is not sanctioning or ignoring men's sins. On the contrary, in these very gifts He is giving them time and incentive to turn from their sins that they may receive immeasurably greater grace through Christ, "That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:7).