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Scriptures Emphasizing Character and Works
It is so easy to believe what we want, rather than what the Bible teaches. How comforting to think that all one needs to do is ask Jesus "to come into my heart, forgive my sins, and take me to heaven when I die." Jesus has promised "forgiveness of sins" and the "gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). The Christian is promised "grace to help in every time of need" and a host of other promises showing his Spirit will work in us to encourage and sustain us, as well as to "will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). To assume that heaven is guaranteed when one confesses Jesus is assuming too much. It is the sin of presumption to believe Jesus is obligated to bestow upon every believer a character suitable for heaven. The devil would encourage all of his followers to accept Jesus, and then he could fill heaven with his unregenerate children. Heaven would be as corrupt as the earth is. Didn't the devil sow "tares" in God's wheat field (Matt. 13:24-30)? Do you not think he would be glad to send his "tares" to heaven? When separating the "sheep" from the "goats" at the end of the Millennium, the basis of judgment will not be merely belief in Jesus, but good works and failure to perform good works. See Matt. 25:32-46.
The following verses pertaining to the Gospel age should give pause to all believers who imagine that a mere confession of sin and belief in Jesus will assure a heavenly home. Bold letters are our emphasis:
"Strait [difficult] is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:14).
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21).
"Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Lk. 12:32).
"So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple" (Lk. 14:33).
"He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 10:37-39).
"For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14).
"Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit" (John 15:2).
"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain" (1 Cor. 9:24).
"But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." [How could he be a "castaway" if heaven was guaranteed to every believer?] (1 Cor. 9:27).
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12, 13).
"I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14).
"That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Phil. 3:10, 11, RSV).
"For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 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." [Note, Paul gave three reasons why he believed he had a "crown of righteousness"-all three reasons were essential along with his initial acceptance of Jesus as his Savior] (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
"And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity [love]. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins" (2 Pet. 1:5-9).
"Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown" (Rev. 3:11).
"So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:16).
Also in the Book of Revelation is the record of "seven Spirits of God" confirming "seven promises" to him that "overcometh." Yet not one of these promises is given to mere believers in Jesus-all must be overcoming believers:
"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7).
"He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" (Rev. 2:11).
"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it" (Rev. 2:17).
"And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken in shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star" (Rev. 2:26-28).
"He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (Rev. 3:5).
"Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, … and I will write upon him my new name" (Rev. 3:12).
"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Rev. 3:21).
The seven promises to the "overcomers" apply to the "little flock" of "an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads" (Rev. 14:1). Because this number is so small, it has caused most preachers to dismiss this number. The best answer they have come up with is that when Jesus comes he will convert this number of Jews to Christ. However, the Revelator's explanation refutes this interpretation. We read, "The hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed [past tense, a work already accomplished] from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women [religious institutions]; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth [throughout the Christian era]. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault [spotless] before the throne of God" (Rev. 14:3-5).
When there are millions upon millions in the churches today, it may appear preposterous that only one hundred forty-four thousand will attain the honor of living and reigning with Christ during his thousand-year reign. However unacceptable this may be, it is still true. This does not mean that only this number will receive a heavenly reward. There will also be a "great company" who will be invited to the marriage "supper" of the Lamb.
"Saved By Hope"
In Romans 8:24 we learn: "We are saved by hope." Many promises of the Bible must be understood in relation to hope. For instance, 1 John 5:11-13 reads: "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." Yet, the facts show that all Christians throughout the age died literally. However, these verses by faith and hope enable the Christian to lay hold on this promise, and believing into Christ fully, receive the assurance of eternal life. Even though they have died, we are told, "the dead in Christ shall rise first" (1 Thes. 4:16).
In John 6:47 we read: "He that believeth on [into] me hath everlasting life." Here the promise is again tied to a full and complete belief on or into Jesus. A Christian does not have this promise on some casual expression of belief. Jesus said in the same context: "This is the work of God, that ye believe on [into] him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29). This is the absorbing work of a Christian's lifetime. "This is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life" (1 John 2:25). John, who spoke these words, died and awaited the Lord's return to receive this promise. God speaks of "those things which be not as though they were" (Rom. 4:17). Just as God speaks of those who have died, such as, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as living (Matt. 22:32), so God speaks of Christians having "eternal life" before they actually experience it.
The Bible contains some promises that are not qualified in the immediate context, but at the same time it has verses in which the promises are definitely qualified. In 1 John 3:14 it is written, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death." Only those who attain to perfect love for the brethren meet this requirement. John further confirms this lesson saying, "And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him" (1 John 3:23, 24). How beautifully the scriptures complement one another when properly understood.
"But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: … and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver" (Mal. 3:2, 3). God will try those who love him in the fire of testing and tribulation. God is seeking pure gold. That is what the refiner does; he removes the dross from the gold in the heated crucible. When the gold is pure, it will reflect his image.
The Great Company
Two classes build upon the "Rock" which is Christ. "Now if any man build upon this foundation [Christ] gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide [can survive the fire] which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (1 Cor.3:12-15).
Those who build with "gold, silver, precious stones" will be able to stand the test of God's "fire" which serves to demonstrate the "work" of each Christian. However, if one builds with "wood, hay, stubble [all flammable]" he shall "suffer loss" but "but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."
Notice, both classes build upon the "Rock" which is Christ. One class builds with the biblical truth of "gold, silver, precious stones." Such character will stand the test of God's consuming fire. However, another class builds their faith structure with "wood, hay and stubble," representing perhaps vain traditions and philosophies of men. Yes, they are full of good intentions and they do build upon the "Rock." God in mercy exposes their folly as their faith structures disintegrate in the "fire." Yet, because, they build upon the "Rock" they will be "saved; yet so as by fire." No, they will not be the "bride of Christ" or "reign with him," but they will be "bridesmaids."
Revelation 7:14, 15 speaks of those "which come out of great tribulation [fire], and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them." Notice their "robes" need washing here in contrast to those in Revelation 14:5 who are "without fault" or "spotless." Even so, they will serve in "his temple," implying a heavenly reward. The faithful followers of Christ are promised to "live and reign with Christ" and also to sit in "his throne." However, the tribulation saints of whom we speak are "before the throne of God." This same class is described in Revelation 19:6 as "a great multitude." These are rejoicing for they hear the invitation, "Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:9). The "bride" and "groom" are not the ones invited. They are the ones who do the inviting.
Hence, of those who receive a heavenly reward, many will not be the bride of Christ. These "suffer loss" and will be forced to "wash their robes" in the "blood of the Lamb." They will come through "great tribulation," but in the end will serve before the throne. The "Great Company" class will receive a heavenly home. These truths should be a comfort to those who truly love the Lord and desire to serve him, yet have been hampered by a faith structure not properly grounded in biblical truth. Thus, by God's grace there will be many more than one hundred forty-four thousand who will receive a heavenly reward. The earth will still be the eternal home for the vast majority of mankind who do not have a vital relationship with Christ in the present time.
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