(PART 1) IT’S A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH
(PART 1) IT’S A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH
As I was growing up, I became aware that my parents were of the Catholic faith. They weren’t consistent in attending Mass. Probably they went to church once a month. When we did attend, what I became aware of was that in the basement of the church was a cafeteria. Every Sunday morning they would make breakfast for whoever wanted it. One of the items that you could order was a fresh bulky roll that was cooked on the grille and as it was removed it was smothered in butter. The church also had a bowling alley that featured candle pin. Throughout the year, the church had community gatherings that were centered on fundraising. As a kid, all of this was enjoyable, as it was a means of eating good food and meeting other kids. I’m sure that my parents felt the same way.
Whenever there was a funeral the priest would read within the confines of the church building certain scriptures about death and resurrection. Sometimes a family member would get up and speak glowingly about the deceased. And that was it. We would follow the funeral procession to the grave site. The priest would say a few more words. Family and friends would mourn the death, as they should, and then everyone went on their way. Through all of this, I became aware that there was a heaven, but how to get there was a bit murky.
I learned from my parents that I was sprinkled with water as a baby, which according to Catholic theology, affects the forgiveness of sins and then as consequence comes the gift of the Holy Spirit. The water along with the reality of the Holy Spirit allows a person to become a child of God and enter into the kingdom of God. This is, according to them, the baptism that now saves us. The sacrament of water baptism is the sacrament of regeneration. They would teach that at this time in my life I was freed from the power of darkness, liberated from sin, and was brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God.
At age 7, I attended catechism, which helped me to become aware of the basic truths of the faith. A further receiving of instruction prepared me to receive certain of the 7 sacraments (these are ceremonies that point to what is sacred, significant, and important for Catholics). After which, I received my first communion (that which nourishes the disciple with Christ’s literal body and blood for his transformation into Him). Later, between the ages of 8-12, I was confirmed (this is a sacrament in which the Holy Spirit is given to those already baptized in order to make them strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ). Eventually, I became an altar boy for a brief period of time. I went to church every Sunday, and on occasion went to confession, observed the 6 days of obligation throughout the year, and observed the two church fasts of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Keeping the Ten Commandments, attending Mass on Sundays, observing the holy days of obligation, committing and confessing venial sins to a priest at least once a year, receiving the Eucharist during the Easter season, observing the days of fasting and abstinence, and helping to provide for the needs of the church are the minimal commitment requirements of the Catholic faith. If one lives their life according to these guidelines, then they are guaranteed entrance into heaven. I have to admit that this clearly delineated process sounded pretty good. I might not ever get to meet God personally in this life, but if I follow these guidelines I will meet him on the other side after I pass away. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but it was probably in my late teens that I stopped going to church. Some would call this choice one of rebellion, and if I continued in this manner, then my eternal destiny to hell upon physical death would be secured.
At about age 19, I was attending a college that was located in Worcester, Ma. I decided to take an elective course on the life of King Saul. The professor, who taught this course, believed that the books of the Old Testament, which told stories about this man, contained errors or contradictions and therefore should be considered as not being inspired by God. What I took out of these stories was not only a basic historical understanding of the life of King Saul and his God, but that the God that he followed was directly involved (was personal) with him. Believe it or not, this is what began my quest for finding the one true personal God.
If God was personal in the lives of people then, then why shouldn’t he still be personal in the lives of people today?
My thinking was, if there is a God wouldn’t he want to be personally involved in my life?
Would a personal God want me to simply have only a hope that He exists?
I attended a few churches in the area. I even went back to the Catholic Church in order to see if anything had changed. Finding a personal God seemed impossible. Along with going to college at this time, I was also working with my father at his business. He owned a Spa & Grille. I would go to the store after classes and take over for him. This involved selling groceries and providing customers with food and drink.
On a certain Sunday afternoon, there was an annual parade that proceeded down Main St., and it was passing by my father’s store. I had just finished work and decided to follow the parade as it headed toward the center of the city. As I got to the center of the city, I heard off in the distance a human voice speaking on a loudspeaker. I walked over to where a large number of people were gathered. The person, who was speaking, was talking about Jesus. At first I thought what a waste of time this was. I had already learned about Him in Catechism.
When he talked about Jesus, I can honestly say that I had never heard this story about Him before. I was told that yes he was the Son of God, but that he was also God come in the flesh. He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on a cross paying for the penalty for the sins of all mankind along with providing forgiveness for them, rose again after 3 days never to die physically again, and ascended into heaven. Whosoever, confesses that he/she is a sinner and believes in this Jesus, as to who he is and what he has done, will receive into their physical body another member of the Godhead known as the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit is given to provide us with evidence; this evidence being Himself, that God has come to indwell inside of us. I had never heard of this before.
A few weeks later, I attended a Bible study that was held by this same group. I confessed out loud with my mouth that I was a sinner and professed belief in this Jesus. Immediately, I was flooded with a joy unspeakable and a peace that passes all understanding. I found God, the same God that was personal with King Saul. No more maybe. No more rules and no more scripted plan to follow. I believe that this is the kind of spiritual reality that God wants for each person of the human race to experience. Confess that you are a sinner and believe in this Jesus and you will receive the evidence of your salvation, this being the indwelling of the person of God the Holy Spirit.
Is the way of becoming a child of God by following the tenets of the Catholic faith or is it by confessing that I am a sinner and professing belief in this Jesus? In order to find the answer, let’s take a look as to where it should be found, which is in the scriptures of the bible.
The Need for a Savior
Before we look at the idea of the protocol involved with becoming a child of God, let’s take a look at what was the basis for the need of a savior, the Christ, the Messiah.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea by a woman named Mary. He grew in stature and wisdom. At about age 30, he was baptized in water by John the Baptist. John recognized Him as the Lamb of God who was to come and take away the sins of the world.
When Jesus began his public ministry, he came in contact with and subsequently entered into a dialogue with the various leaders of the Jewish faith, those being the scribes, the high priest, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, who were awaiting the arrival of a person, who was referred by them as the Christ, the Messiah. Most saw him as a king, who would deliver them from Roman oppression and establish his kingdom on earth (Isaiah 9 & 11). Some of them taught that the coming Messiah would come and suffer and die (Isaiah 53).
It’s interesting to note that at the time of Christ’s public ministry the Jews were operating under a religious system known as the Mosaic Law. This system had a temple that was located in Jerusalem. They were to keep the commandments (not just the ten, but over one hundred of them); observe the testimonies, which were laws that are related to the commemoration of certain events (e.g. the Seventh year Sabbath rest; the weekly Sabbath; the 50th year, the year of Jubilee; the feast of the Passover; the feast of unleavened bread, etc.); observe the judgments, which were laws relating to civil government. (e.g. dietary, marriage, military, conservation, etc. along with the related consequences or punishment); and obey the statutes, which pertain to the ordinances (e.g. of the Tabernacle, Holy Days, Offerings, the High Priest, Meat Offering, Trespass Offering, the Levites, etc) of the Law.
They were instructed to set aside one day a week to worship the Lord, and attend four annual feasts (e.g. feast of the Passover, Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) each one having their own specific purpose and number of days that was needed to be set aside for the observance. This system was communicated to their ancestors’ years earlier by Moses, who received instructions about this religious system from the Lord.
With this in mind, what is the meaning and purpose of the Mosaic Law?
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. (Galatians 3:19)
It was an intermediate institution that was designed to:
●Tell the Jews that they were doing wrong when they did certain things.
●Disclose the true nature of sin.
●Deter them from committing sin by declaring its consequences.
●Reveal to them that it could not make them righteous before God.
●Reveal the need for a savior, who would take care of the barrier of sin between God and man.
For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. (Hebrews 10:1-3)
The sacrifices for sin which were offered for individuals throughout the year and for the entire nation once a year on the Day of Atonement always reminded the people of their sins, never releasing them from the guilt of having committed them. These sacrifices foreshadowed the one true sacrifice of the Christ, the Messiah, who would come and die on a cross paying the penalty for the sins of the whole world procuring the forgiveness for them once and for all, thus satisfying the demands of a just and holy God in relation to sin.
If the institution of the Mosaic Law, by the many sacrifices which it mandated to be offered for sin, was unable to pay the prescribed penalty for sin in order to meet the demands of a just and holy God, then after Christ’s satisfactory payment for these sins by means of the sacrifice of Himself on the cross, why would God institute another religious system so that mankind could become a child of His by means of rules and ritual?
What Is Needed in Order for a Person to Enter into the Kingdom of God?
While this varies from faith to faith some say that in order for a person to enter into the kingdom of God they must be sprinkled in or immersed in water, keep the Ten Commandments, attend church on a regular basis, commit minor sins, observe certain holy days throughout the year, partake in communion, confess sins to someone in leadership, and help support the church financially.
Is this what causes an unbeliever to become a child of God?
Is becoming a child of God a progressive work on the part of man or does this occur once at a moment in time?
Let’s take a look and see what the scriptures have to say.
Of Water and of the Spirit
Suggested Reading: 1 John 3:1-5
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
During Jesus public ministry, He was approached by a Jewish man named Nicodemus, who was a ruler of the Jews, being a Pharisee. This man knew that Jesus must be of God, because of the miracles that He performed. Jesus told him what the key was for any person to enter the kingdom of God. He said that this person must be born of water and the Spirit.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16)
The word “water” is a cause for disagreement as concerning its meaning. Some state that it must refer to water baptism.
In whom ye also trusted after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, (Ephesians 1:13)
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (Ephesians 5:26)
Others will say that the word “water” is symbolic for the word of God. They would also mention that the two oldest manuscripts that contain the book of Mark, which were written in Greek and Latin, did not contain the last 12 verses of this book.
What we do know is that in order to enter into the kingdom of God a person must be born of water and of the Holy Spirit. Maybe the next chapter will provide us with further insight.
What Is the Basis for Receiving the Holy Spirit?
He That Believeth on Me
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
Jesus was attending the Feast of Tabernacles. At some point, he decided to stand before the people and proclaim that the Holy Spirit would be given to anyone who believed in Him.
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, (Ephesians 1:13)
This idea of believing is restated in the book of Ephesians. Except in this case, anyone, who has heard the gospel about Christ and believes in Him will be sealed with the Holy Spirit. The word “sealed” means to seal or set a mark or stamp upon, which signifies that those who having received the indwelling Spirit are owned by God.
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)
The book of Peter also tells us that if a person acknowledges that they are a sinner (repent) and believes in Jesus as to who he is and what he has done he/she will receive the Holy Spirit.
But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
These verses and the last one seem to clearly indicate that a person is saved when they repent of their sins, and after which hear the gospel (good news) of Christ, and respond favorably to it by believing in Him as to who He is and what He has done. Being born of the water and the Spirit is being born of water (of the gospel – of hearing the word which indicates that an unbeliever must repent of their sins and believe in Christ) and of the Spirit (whom subsequently they will receive).
When the Holy Spirit is received, does this confirm that a person has become a child of God? The next chapter will talk about this.
When a Person Receives the Holy Spirit, Does This Confirm That They Have Become a Child of God?
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Galatians 4:6)
When an unbeliever repents and believes they become a son, and thus are called a son. As such, God sends the Holy Spirit to come into their hearts.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (Romans 8:16)
The Holy Spirit gives us witness (evidence) of His presence with our human spirit in a joint-testimony to the fact that we are a child of God1, when he produces in us the effects of his influence, which are the spiritual qualities of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.
The receiving of the Holy Spirit confirms that we are a son or child of God. And by the way a Christian is called many other names beside a son or child. Here are a couple of them.
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:5)
The book of Thessalonians calls believers children of light and children of the day.
And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:24)
Another interesting description of a believer is found in the book of Ephesians. They are referred to as being the new man, who they are to put on, on a daily basis.
This begs the next question. After we have received the Holy Spirit, then what? What is the Christian life all about? This is the dilemma for many Christians. In most cases, they are told by the church hierarchy that their Christian walk is comprised not only in learning about the doctrines of the faith, but by observing ceremonies, rituals, certain days of the year along with making sure that their behavior is considered acceptable. Is this the protocol way of life for a Christian to follow?
Before we take a look at this, maybe you thought you were a Christian by being baptized in water or by some other way, other than repenting and believing. If this is the case, then you can receive the indwelling Spirit right now in order to confirm that you are a Christian.
I Need the Holy Spirit
If you have admitted (to repent) to being a sinner, one who has thought (e.g. mental attitude sins in thought such as entertain committing adultery, being jealous, being bitter, getting back at someone, etc.), spoke (e,g. gossip, maligning, lying, etc.) or committed actions (e.g. fornication, theft, homosexual relations, lying, stealing, etc.), and have professed belief in this Jesus, who is not only the Son of God, but also God come in the flesh, being born of a virgin, having lived a sinless life, died on a cross paying for the penalty for the sins of all mankind along with providing forgiveness for them, rose again after 3 days never to die physically again, and ascended into heaven, then you have received the Holy Spirit and are become what the scriptures declare as being “born again”.
If you have not made a profession of faith and would like to receive the indwelling Holy Spirit, then you can do it right now by repeating what follows.
I am a sinner who has thought such and such (add your own thoughts) about others, who has spoken about others in such and such (add your own thoughts) manner, and who has committed actions as such and such (add your own thoughts) against others. I believe in this Jesus who is not only the Son of God, but also God come in the flesh, being born of a virgin, having lived a sinless life, died on a cross paying for the penalty for the sins of all mankind along with providing forgiveness for them, rose again after 3 days never to die physically again, and ascended into heaven.
But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. (Acts 26:20)
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: (Acts 17:30)
By admitting that we are sinners indicates two things, that we are not trying to hide or condone our sin and that we need a savior in order to receive the Holy Spirit so that we can be transformed daily into the new person, whom we have become, and no longer be characterized by our sinful nature. And by the way when we receive the Holy Spirit, he comes into our body and resides in us.
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19)
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:9)
So, now that the Holy Spirit is residing in you, then you should know what his ministry and purpose is in your life.
1Weust’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament Pc Study Bible version 5, 2005, 1 Dec. 2017˂http://www.biblesoft.com>.
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