Resurrection Harmonization

Happy Good Friday 2022! Praise God that Jesus died on the cross for sinners like us. And, even more, raised from the dead to establish new life for all.

Along those lines, I wanted us to consider the full picture of Jesus’ resurrection. Here is my humble attempt at picturing the sequence of all the events of Jesus’ MIGHTY RESURRECTION (with my reasoning below).

The list of resurrection events (in sequence)

  1. Weekly Sabbath (Fri Evening – Saturday) | Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1
  2. Women buy and prepare anointing spices (Saturday Evening, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1
  3. Women go to Jesus’ tomb (Sunday AM, before sunrise, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1, 10; John 20:1
  4. Angel moves stone and frightens guard away (Sunday AM, around sunrise, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:2-4; Mark 16:3-4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1
  5. Women arrive to tomb, see stone removed (Sunday AM, sunrise, Jerusalem) | John 20:2
  6. Mary Magdalene notifies John and Peter (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Luke 24:12; John 20:3-4
  7. Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John return to tomb (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Luke 24:12; John 20:5-10
  8. Peter and John leave after finding tomb empty (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Luke 24:12; John 20:5-10
  9. The women entered the tomb, but saw nothing (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Luke 24:3
  10. Mary Magdalene discovers angels in tomb; departs to consult “gardener” (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | John 20:11-12
  11. Other women talk with angels (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-7, 23; John 20:11-13
  12. Mary Magdalene realizes the “gardener” is Jesus (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:9; John 20:14-17
  13. Other women leave the angels to tell the disciples (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:8; Mark 16:8; Luke 24:8-9
  14. Other women join Mary Magdalene and Jesus (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:9-10
  15. Women leave to tell disciples (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:11; Mark 16:8; Luke 24:8-9; John 20:18
  16. Guard conspires with Jewish leaders (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Matt. 28:11-15
  17. Disciples doubt women’s report (Sunday AM, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:9-11; Luke 24:10-11; John 20:18
  18. 2 to Emmaus encounter Jesus (Sunday Afternoon-Evening, Jerusalem-Emmaus) | Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-33
  19. Peter encounters Jesus (Sunday Afternoon-Evening, Jerusalem area) | Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5
  20. 2 to Emmaus report what they saw (Sunday Evening, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:13; Luke 24:33-38
  21. Group of disciples (minus Thomas) encounter Jesus (Sunday Evening, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25
  22. Disciples tell Thomas (Sunday Evening, Jerusalem) | John 20:25
  23. Group of disciples (including Thomas) encounter Jesus (8 days after Resurrection Sunday, Jerusalem) | John 20:26-29; 1 Cor. 15:5
  24. Disciples journey back to Galilee (between 8-35 days after Resurrection Sunday, Jerusalem-Galilee)
  25. 7 apostles encounter Jesus while fishing in Galilee (between 8-35 days after Resurrection Sunday, Galilee) | John 21:1-23
  26. Jesus appears to 500+ people at Galilean mountain (between 8-35 days after Resurrection Sunday, Galilee) | Matt. 28:16-20; 1 Cor. 15:6
  27. Jesus appears to James, His brother (timing unknown, location unknown) | 1 Cor. 15:7
  28. Disciples return to Jerusalem (for Pentecost) (35-40 days after Resurrection Sunday, Galilee-Jerusalem)
  29. Jesus meets with disciples (40 days after Resurrection Sunday, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:4-8; 1 Cor. 15:7
  30. Jesus ascends to heaven (40 days after Resurrection Sunday, Jerusalem) | Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-51; John 20:17; Acts 1:2, 9-11; 2:32-34; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:19-20; 1 Pet. 3:21-22
  31. Apostles and disciples return to Jerusalem, worshipping Jesus (40 days after Resurrection Sunday, Jerusalem) | Luke 24:52-53; Acts 1:12-14
  32. Apostles receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (50 days after Resurrection Sunday, Jerusalem) | Acts 2

Here is a PDF of a fuller treatment of this: “Harmonizing the Resurrection”.

This is part of a broader gospel harmony I’ve created, and gives a plausible order and harmonization of resurrection events based on the 4 gospels (plus 1 Corinthians 15).

The Gospel Explained (Romans 1-8)

Understanding the Bad News (Romans 1:1-3:20)

God exists, but is invisible to the human eye.  Two ways everyone in the world knows about Him are through:

  1. The world He created,
  2. The inner sense of right and wrong that all people have.

However, though all people know deep down that God is real, we have all disobeyed Him, and live for ourselves instead of for God.  This is called sin.  We worship other things, and turn our backs on God.  We do things like: have sex outside of marriage, murder, gossip about others, envy others, hate God, disobey our parents, don’t have faith in God, aren’t thankful toward God, and a million other sinful things.  In fact, every time we reject God in our thoughts, words, and actions, we commit sin against God.

Even further, the more we choose sin, the more our eyes struggle to see God.  And the less we see of God, the more we feel OK about sinning.  It is a terrible cycle, yet every single human being is born into it.  The worst news of all is that God—who is good and perfect and holy—must destroy every sin and every sinner.  This happens because God cannot have sin come into His presence.  This means that you, I, and everyone else deserve death for how we have turned from God in our heart and actions.  You may challenge this and say, “But how can God be mad at my actions?  He has blessed me with so many things in my life.  Surely this is a sign that God approves of my behavior?”  But you don’t realize that God is being kind to you so that you will see His goodness, see that you don’t deserve it, and see that you need to turn and serve Him, instead of serving yourself (The word for this is “repentance”. It literally means that you turn your mind and actions from serving you to serving God).  Your sinful actions have NOT earned His kindness.

God’s standards of good and bad are found in the Bible.  If someone read these standards, and lived perfectly by them, they would earn life in God’s presence forever (though no human being is capable of this, as will be discussed later).  But even those who don’t read the Bible can also know right from wrong, because God puts the understanding of right and wrong within every human heart.  This is called your conscience.  Therefore, no one has the excuse of saying, “God never showed me right from wrong,” because He has shown everyone right and wrong through the Bible and through their own conscience.

However, even though every human knows right from wrong, no one is able to live a perfect life.  And God—who is good and perfect and holy—must destroy every sin and sinner.  Even if all your sins are in your heart and are secret from those around you, God still knows.  It grieves God to sentence death on human beings that He lovingly created (see Genesis 1:27), but His character demands it.  If you have sinned, you deserve death.  There is no way around it.

Also note that some people will come to God and say, “But I read your Bible and know what it says.  Doesn’t that mean I deserve eternal life in your presence?”  No.  Of course, it is helpful to know the Bible, but it is not enough to merely know what the Bible says about right and wrong.  If you can’t perfectly follow God’s commands (and no one fully can), then you are still a person who deserves death and destruction from God’s hand.  It doesn’t matter how many Bible verses you can quote.

Others will say, “I never outwardly sinned against God.  I behaved much better than others around me.”  However, it is also not enough to outwardly follow what God says, if in your heart you disobey Him.  For instance, God says that if a person looks on another person with lust (i.e. self-interested sexual craving) in their heart, they have committed adultery with that person (see Matthew 5:28).  And God says that if someone is angry with someone else in their heart, they are guilty of the sin of murder (see Matthew 5:21-22).  See, God looks at how good you’ve been in your heart and mind, not just what you do outwardly.

Others might say, “But even when I made mistakes and sins, good things came out of it.  Doesn’t that show that God is OK with my sin?”  Though it is true that God has a way of making good things come out of the evil we have done, it doesn’t change the fact that we still made sinful decisions, and still deserve death.  For instance, consider that Judas Iscariot (one of the 12 men who Jesus Christ chose to be His disciples; he secretly betrayed Jesus and helped in killing Him) did a great evil in betraying Jesus Christ (Jesus Christ is God who came to live in a human body more than 2,000 years ago in the land of Israel).  And even though Jesus’ death and resurrection turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to humanity (we will discuss that soon), Judas is still guilty for sin, right?  This is the same for any sin we do.  We are guilty, no matter what good God brings out of it.

In saying all this, it should be clear that there is no human being who has ever perfectly obeyed God.  No one has an excuse for this.  No one deserves to live in His presence forever.  In fact, even the Bible itself declares, “No one does good, not even one.” (see Psalms 14:1-3; Psalms 53:1-3; Romans 3:12).  Did you catch that?  The Bible says that no one has been perfect and without sin.  If you say that you follow the Bible, then you must believe that Bible verse to be true.  You must agree with the Bible that “No one does good,”—not even you!  No one is capable of the good that God demands; all deserve death—even you!    

Though this is not fun news to share, it is truthful and is shared in love.  And only in understanding this bad news will you be able to grasp the good news that will be shared next.

Understanding the Good News (Romans 3:21-4:12)

    Even after all the bad news shared thus far, there is a way that sinners—like you and I—can be righteous in God’s pure sight.  We can escape death and enter God’s presence (no matter how bad our sins are).  In fact, the very Bible that says, “No one is good,” gives the answer.  

According to the Bible, all who put their trust in Jesus Christ and what He did (more on that in a bit) are considered 100% righteous in God’s sight.  That is, they are in a “right-standing” with a Holy God; they are considered morally perfect in His sight.  So even though every person has sinned, they can all be considered perfect in God’s eyes after they trust in Jesus Christ.  Here’s how this works:

    Humans can’t be perfect.  But God can.  So God came to the earth as a human, by sending his only Son, “Jesus.”  Jesus was the first and only person in the history of mankind to live a perfect life, totally obeying God in heart, mind, and body.  He was the first and only person to truly deserve to live in God’s presence as a sinless person, and not receive death from such a holy God.  And even though He didn’t deserve it, God put Him to death through the hands of humans.  It was a gruesome death.  He was nailed to a jagged, wooden cross, while God turned His back on His only Son.  This perfect Son received a death that He didn’t deserve—a death that should have been ours—, and His blood poured out until there was no more life in His corpse.  Why?

    Jesus lived a perfect life deserving God’s blessing, yet He received God’s wrath (i.e. extremely strong anger), so that sinners like you and I (and the rest of humanity) who deserve God’s wrath, can receive God’s blessing of eternal life instead.  It was and is a perfect substitution.  And as a perfect Judge, God could still ensure the penalty of death was paid for your sins (through Jesus), and yet forgive you from having to pay death because you trust that Jesus’ blood stands in your place.  That is, Jesus’ shed blood is a sign that He was tortured and died, even though you deserved this death for your sins, and Jesus did not deserve it. Jesus’ death allows God to remain as the perfect Judge and to pass over your sins and give you life.

    All of what’s been said so far should make you realize that anyone who is not punished for sin, and given eternal life instead, has absolutely nothing to boast about because we didn’t deserve it.  Jesus paid the full price, and we simply have to trust in the power of His blood to cover all of our sins.  All of this is the central point of the Bible.  In fact, this was God’s plan all along.  God even wrote about these things hundreds of years before Jesus entered earth. 

For instance, a man named Abraham (who was the father of God’s people, the Jews, and lived 2,000 years before Jesus was born) was given the gift of righteousness the moment he believed God’s word.  He did not become “righteous” by doing any great things, but simply by believing what God said to him.  Similarly, when you simply believe God’s word about Jesus dying in your place, you are considered perfect and righteous in God’s sight—not because you’ve done great things, but because you believe in Jesus as your substitute and your faith covers you with Jesus’ righteousness.  In fact, it was only after Abraham believed and was made “righteous” that he followed God’s rules–not before.  So it shows that being righteous does not come by following rules, but believing in God’s word about Jesus.

There was also an honored king over God’s people (the Jews) named David.  David lived 1,000 years before Jesus was born and wrote, “Blessed are those who God forgives of their sins.”  Did you catch that?  David did not say the blessing comes to those who have done all these great things.  Instead, the blessing comes when you are forgiven of terrible things (sins).  In the same way, God’s blessing is really only for those who have been forgiven of their sins (in Jesus), since no one can live good enough to earn this blessing.

    See, before Jesus came to earth, God gave a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for how people could be totally holy.  This is called “God’s law”.  But these rules were impossible for sinful human beings (which we all are) to perfectly obey.  Instead, the law only showed people how sinful they are.  In fact, that was the point of God’s law: to show us all that we aren’t as great as we think, and we deserve to be punished.  We deserve death as that punishment.  And if we want to live, we need someone else to take that punishment for us.

The Example of Abraham (Romans 4:13-25)

Think about it this way: Abraham (the father of God’s people, the Jews, who lived 2,000 years before Jesus) tried for decades to have a child with his wife.  In other words, they tried to produce a “life” that would come from their bodies.  They tried it all on their own efforts, but could not get pregnant and produce “life”.  No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t do it.  But then God said to them (when they were very old), “Even though your bodies are not able to produce life, I will supernaturally bring life to you.  I will give you a son.” (This is a very loose paraphrase of Genesis 15:4-6 and Romans 4:18-19). And when Abraham believed God, and believed that God would give him life–even though he was old and physically unable to produce life in himself (And in this sense it is as if he is “dead,” Romans 4:19 and Hebrews 11:12)–, THEN God said, “By believing in what I said, you are righteous,” (see Genesis 15:6). Do you see that?  Abraham believed what God said—he believed God’s words—, and did not trust in his own abilities to produce, “life”.  That was why he was called, “righteous”.  

This picture is the same for us today.  We must realize that we can’t produce God’s eternal life on our own.  Instead, we must trust what God said, that He has given us life through Jesus.  When we trust this—at that very moment of faith—, we are considered righteous (that is, morally perfect) in God’s eyes.  The only thing needed is faith in what God says about this.  Faith in God’s word about Jesus brings us from death to life, as it did with Abraham.

How Can You Be Sure That You Are Now Righteous by Faith? It Seems Too Good To Be True (Romans 5:1-11)

Jesus’ death paid the penalty we deserved for our sins, but then, God resurrected Jesus 3 days later.  The same person who was clearly killed, came back to life and walked and talked and did all sorts of things that dead people can’t do.  When God resurrected Jesus, it showed that God totally accepted Jesus’ death as fully paying for all sin.  It showed that sin and death have no more power, because Jesus’ suffering is finished.  He now lives, and will never suffer again.  The penalty of death has been fully paid, and Jesus’ resurrection proves that God said, “This is good enough.  You can now live because the penalty for sin is finished.”  

Because Jesus resurrected, we can know without a shadow of doubt that our sins have been paid in full.  Those who believe Jesus died and resurrected for our sins can rest secure and know they have peace with God.  We can fully experience God’s grace, even though He has every right to be angry with our sinfulness.

Furthermore, hardships we go through can also help us know that God has truly declared us to be righteous.  Hardships can show that God has fully forgiven all of our sins.  Let me explain.

When we believe in Jesus, God starts living in our hearts through His Holy Spirit.

Aside: There is only one God, but He exists as 3 personalities simultaneously: (1) God the Father, (2) God the Son (Jesus Christ), and (3) God the Holy Spirit.  You can think of there being 1 egg, but 3 parts: (1) the shell, (2) the yoke, (3) the egg white.  The difference with God, though, is that each of His personalities (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are fully God, whereas each part of the egg is not fully the egg, but only a part of the egg.

And when bad things happen to us, we can watch as God’s Spirit in us makes us love and have hope, even while trials come.  We know that this is not possible for human beings to do without God’s Holy Spirit living in them, so when we watch how we have unexplainable love and hope in the midst of such bad things, this is evidence that God lives in us.  God living in us (through the Holy Spirit) is the “stamp of approval” that God considers us fully righteous.  This is because God would never live inside someone who wasn’t righteous in His sight.  His Spirit in us tells us that He declared us forgiven of sins.

Also, we can trust that God will spare believers from wrath when we die, simply by looking at the love God already showed for us in what Jesus already did on the cross.  Think about it: If you look at the world, you rarely find someone who’s willing to die for someone else.  And if they do, it’s almost definitely because they thought that person to be a good person who deserved to live.  But Jesus died for us while we were sinning and when we deserved to die for our turning away from God.  And if Jesus died for us while we were terrible sinners, then we can count on His sacrifice to spare us from God’s wrath when we die and face God’s judgment (even if we make mistakes and sin after believing Jesus).  Or do you think God stopped loving people after He died on the cross for sinners?  No!  His love on the cross will continue onto the day you are judged by God, and His love will be shown in saving you from judgment.  He will never take back what Jesus did on the cross for sinners like you and me.

The Big Picture (Romans 5:12-21)

    To understand this further, consider that at the beginning of creation there were only two people: Adam and Eve (see Genesis 1-3).  And through only these two people come all the human beings alive today.  Adam and Eve are parents to us all.  They are the source of all human beings in all history.  So when Adam sinned against God by 1 act of disobedience (he ate fruit God told him not to eat), it brought death into a world that was not meant to die.  Adam died because of 1 sin.  Not only that, but the sin in Adam’s genetics passed to his children and their children, and so on, until it reached all of us alive today.  We are all born with sin in our heart and we all die, because we are all offspring of a man who had sin and death living in him.  It would be like filling cups of water from a contaminated water well.  Every single cup will carry the contamination, because the source of all the water is contaminated itself.

    Notice also that this sin and death entered the world before the Bible was written, and before God gave His list of “do’s and don’ts” (called, “The Law”).  When the Law came, it just showed how sinful we all are.  It showed that Adam indeed had sin in him and passed it on to all of his descendants.  But sin and death were already present before the Law came.  So, in summary, one man’s act of disobedience brought sin and death to all people.    But, in a similar manner, one man’s (Jesus’) act of obedience (death on the cross) can now give righteousness and life to all who believe Him.  Just as Adam sinned, and we automatically were sinners from birth, so when Jesus died and resurrected, all who believe Him are automatically righteous at the point of faith.  They are righteous because Jesus is righteous, and they get His life (in the Bible, this is called being “born again,” see John 3:3. Your natural birth is your “first birth,” and coming to believe Jesus is your “second birth”. The first is a physical birth and the second is a spiritual birth that happens when you get God’s Holy Spirit inside of you). Just as we were unrighteous because Adam was unrighteous, and we were born into his life. So, the Law showed people how sinful they were for hundreds of years before Jesus came, but it never made someone righteous.  It just showed them that they CAN’T live up to God’s standards.  It was meant to make people ready for a savior, since they should have realized that there was no way they could earn eternal life on their own efforts.  It was also meant to show how marvelous and amazing God’s grace is through giving undeserved righteousness and eternal life to sinners like us, simply for trusting Jesus and trusting that He died and resurrected for our sins.

How Does Our Life Change After We Believe Jesus? (Romans 6:1-14)

So, when we see that our righteousness comes from Jesus’ obedience, and not our own, does this mean that God doesn’t care whether we sin or not (since Jesus died for all of our sins already)?  Absolutely not!  Why not?  Because when we believe in our heart that Jesus paid the price for our sin, it always will lead to changing who we are.  

    For starters, the moment you believe Jesus died and resurrected for your sins, your life dies to sinful desires.  Sin loses its power over you, all because you believed Jesus.  This is why one of the first things new believers need to do is get baptized (buried) in water.  That baptism is symbolic of burying the “dead” you (the “old” you).  In the physical world, you bury those who die, right?  The same is true in the spiritual world.  You have died to sin, so you need to be spiritually “buried” by being baptized in water.  And when you come out of the water, it symbolizes you coming out as a brand new person.  As Jesus physically died, buried, and resurrected, so you spiritually “die” (when you believe), are “buried” (when you are baptized), and “resurrect” (through the new life in you by God’s Holy Spirit, as will be explained soon).  The fact that you’ve been baptized proves you’ve died to sin.

    Your new life begins with the knowledge and realization that when Jesus died, so did you.  It wasn’t just our bad deeds that were forgiven (though they are!), nor does it just mean we have passed out of God’s judgment (though we have!).  It also means that we, as sinners, were spiritually done away with at Jesus’ death.  Our old life died with Jesus.  And if we died with Jesus from our old way of living, then our new life must be just like Jesus’ resurrection life.  In His resurrection life, Jesus lives purely for God.  In the same way, the new life God gives us belongs to God (He gave us this new life, after all!).

    But what if you are reading this and are a believer and don’t feel like your old, sinful self died with Christ?  And you don’t feel like you have a new resurrected life?  What do you do then?  

Well, God says over and over in His word, “When you believe it, then you will see it,” (see John 11:40, for instance). He tells us to walk according to our faith, instead of sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Do you remember Abraham?  He believed God’s word even though it directly opposed his own experience (see Genesis 15:4-6 and Romans 4:18-19).  So, will you believe God’s words that your old self died with Christ (see Romans 6:6, for instance)?  Will you believe these words even if you don’t “feel” like you actually died with Christ?  After you believe this, you will start to see it actually happen.  But not before you believe.

So after you know and believe that you died and resurrected with Christ, your job is to give all of your new life over to God.  He is your new “master”.  Your old master was “sin”.  Sin could tell you what to do, where to go, how to think, etc.  And whether you wanted to follow sin or not, you always ended up following.  You always ended up sinning whether you wanted to or not.  This proves that sin was truly your master.  

And even after you may have learned right from wrong (whether by reading it in the Bible or knowing it in your conscience), it just would make you realize that you were still a prisoner to sin.  Even when you wanted to do right, ultimately, you ended up sinning instead.  Sin was your master and God’s law was the mirror that showed you just how much sin rules you.

But when you believe Christ, you become dead to sin.  This means that sin can come to you, and yell at you, and point his finger, and make all sorts of demands…but he’s talking to a corpse now.  You are dead to sin, and sin’s demands lose the power they once had over you.  However, even though you have been freed from sin, you do have a new master.  God is now your master.  And His demands are to be obeyed.  He is a good and gracious master (unlike sin, who just wanted to destroy you), but He is still a master.  So give up control and rights you think you have on your life.  Submit to God as your master.  As a believer, make the decision to allow God to control you (a decision that you were incapable of making before you believed).

How Do You Give God Full Control Of You? (Romans 6:14-7:6)

    Knowing that God has demands over you (and is your master) doesn’t mean God gives you a list of rules and says, “Only if you do this will you be righteous in my eyes.”  That kind of thinking ended when Jesus died.  You are fully righteous in God’s eyes the moment you believe.  We no longer have to worry about not being righteous enough, even though we know we have sinned.  Instead, God gives us undeserved life through the death of His perfect Son (Jesus).  We are under His grace (i.e. undeserved and unearned favor from God) if we believe Jesus.  

    But being under this grace does not mean that God doesn’t care if we sin or not.  God does care.  He made you to serve and obey Him, not sin.  And every time you choose sin over God, you are glorifying (i.e. putting a positive spotlight, attention, and focus on someone or something) something despicable instead of giving full glory and attention to God by obeying Him.  

See, when you believe in Jesus with your heart, God starts changing you by changing your heart.  He does this by putting His Holy Spirit in your heart.  And the more your heart knows and receives what the Bible says concerning Jesus, the more it will be changed.  

So, when you used to be a slave of sin, what did sin (your old “master”) pay you for all the ways you “served” him?  You got shame and eventually would earn death.  Face it, sin is a terrible and cruel master.  But now, God says, “Serve Me.  Give your heart fully to Me.  Obey Me.”  And what will God give you for surrendering your heart to him?  He’ll give you the gift of eternal life.  This gift begins and never ends the moment you believe Jesus.  At that time, God’s Holy Spirit (who has eternal life in Him) enters you.  Even more, the Holy Spirit in you will change your life and bring you to live in ways that please God and are righteous.  All of this is possible because of the death and resurrection of the Son of God.  This was a complete gift—that’s how good God is as your master.

Think of it another way.  Before Jesus came, God gave a law to follow.  But no one could follow it.  It was like people were “married” to this law.  God’s law was like the “husband” and the people were like the “wife”.  This means that they were stuck together, because God’s law says that a wife cannot separate from her husband as long as both are alive.  People were “stuck” to follow God’s law as a way of righteousness as long as they and the law were alive.  In fact, if the people tried to stop following the law as a way of righteousness, and became “married” to some other way of being righteous, they would be committing spiritual adultery on their husband.  And God hates adultery (see Leviticus 20:10, for instance).  So the people were truly stuck with the law—they couldn’t leave unless they died or God’s law died.

However, when Christ died, we who believe Christ died with Him.  Did you catch that?  We died.  This means we died to our old marriage with God’s law.  And since we also resurrected with Christ (see Romans 6:4, for instance), we have a new life that is free to marry someone/something different than God’s law.  That is, we no longer need to try to perfectly obey the law to become righteous.  The law is no longer our master.  Just as sin is no longer our master, neither is the law our master.  We are free to have a new “husband,” so to speak.  In fact, our new “husband” was already chosen for us.  It is none other than Jesus Himself.  We are now married to Christ, the One who rose from the dead.  This is why all Christians are called the bride of Christ (see Ephesians 5:23-25, for instance; they are also called “the church” which is just a fancy way of saying they are an organized group of Christians).

Even further, just as husband and wife are united in sex after marriage, and the husband’s sperm/life goes inside the wife, so Jesus’ life (which is the Holy Spirit) enters into us the moment we believe.  Our spirit and God’s Spirit become one in the same way in which the husband’s body and wife’s body become one when they have sex in marriage (see 1 Corinthians 6:16-17).  

Further still, it is this union with Christ and the Holy Spirit that produces good fruit in us.  It is through his Spirit in us that we are able to truly please God in this lifetime, instead of just sinning all the time.  Jesus’ life in us changes our whole character and brings us to live and look like Jesus did: obedient to God.  

When we lived without Jesus’ life in us (before belief), we could only produce death.  We had no power to do good things.  And God’s law only showed how bad we were and how much death we produced.  It was like a mirror that showed us we weren’t as good as we thought we were.  But we serve God now by the Holy Spirit inside us.  He does the work in us.  And God no longer tells us to follow His external law in the power of our flesh alone.  No, He now comes to live inside of you and bring you to walk in His ways from the inside-out.  He does the work, not you.

God’s Law And Our Sin-Nature (Romans 7:7-25)

    Does all this mean God’s law is a bad thing?  Absolutely not.  God’s law is a great thing.  It shows us what God’s standard of righteousness looks like, and is the best way to realize that human beings can never live up to God’s standard.  Humans can never be perfect like God, which is a huge problem, because God’s perfect character cannot allow any imperfection to dwell with Him.  Humans, if left on their own, would be banished from God’s presence forever.  And without God’s law and standards of right and wrong, we would never realize how sinful we truly are.  God’s law is holy, right, and good.  In fact, the law was written by God Himself, through His Holy Spirit.

    The problem was never with God’s law.  The problem was always with us—you, me, and everybody.  We are not holy, right, or good.  Before someone knows/believes Jesus, they don’t have God’s Holy Spirit.  They only have their own sinful flesh to work with.  That was true for all of us.  So even when we wanted to obey God and do what is right, we still ended up choosing sin.  We didn’t have the Holy Spirit in us to overcome sin.  So in our mind, and in our inner being, we could desire to follow God, but the sin-nature that lives in us (the sinful genetics that we inherited from Adam) is simply unable to stop sinning.  Before knowing Jesus, we always sinned, whether we wanted to or not.  

In fact, the sin-nature in us works similar to the law of gravity in the world: no matter how hard you try to beat it, it ends up beating you!  And just as you can’t stop the law of gravity, it is impossible to change your sin-nature.  So how does this struggle stop?  How does our sinful flesh die once-and-for-all?  

Well, this problem was already answered 2,000 years ago, when Jesus died—thank God!  The moment you believe this, you step into Jesus’ death.  Because Jesus died, you died to sin.  And because you died to sin, you died to your need to obey the law to be righteous.  

Walking By the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-30)

In Christ and His sacrifice, there is NOW no more wrath or condemnation over us.  We who believe no longer need to struggle with sin, and we no longer need to try to be righteous on our own efforts.  We are no longer under God’s wrath.  All because Christ took our sin, was holy, and took God’s wrath for us! 

And the evidence that we have passed from death into life is that we have God’s Spirit in us, and thus have a life in us that is able to overcome the sin-nature in us.  The life of the Holy Spirit is stronger than the sin-nature.  It is impossible to overcome the sin-nature without the Spirit.  And even when we have the Spirit, we can still be guilty of following our fleshly desires and sins.  However, we have a life living in us (the Spirit) that has more power than sin.  And the more we walk according to this life, the less we sin.

And this life (God’s Holy Spirit) living in us is the sign that God no longer sentences death on us.  The Holy Spirit is like having a “stamp” of approval that God has given to all who trust Jesus.  Even more, this Holy Spirit is the very Person who raised Jesus up after He died.  Do you know what that means?  If God’s Holy Spirit already proved He has the power to bring Jesus from death to life; that means He has the power to defeat sin and death in us.  And thus, as we yield to God’s Spirit in us, we will start seeing ourselves sin less and less and less.  And as we watch this process happen, it should excite us to know that we truly have believed and have been received by God!  If His Spirit is in us, we can have total confidence that we no longer have the sentence of God’s wrath and death on us.  The sin-nature we had since birth was crucified when Jesus died, and can be undone in our own experiences as Jesus’ Spirit in us has His way.

God’s Spirit can prove to us and others that we are NOW children of God.  As children, we know we will receive an inheritance from our Heavenly Father (“Heavenly Father” is a title for God, see Matthew 6:9, for instance), just as all good fathers on earth leave some sort of inheritance for their children.  Of course, all good fathers also lovingly discipline the children before they give their inheritance (in fact, this discipline makes the child more ready to properly use their inheritance, because their character is developed through the discipline).  In the same way, all who are children of God, and will receive His full inheritance, MUST also suffer in this life (just as Jesus, God’s Son, suffered before He received the full reward of sitting at God the Father’s right hand as King forever—where He is today).  In fact, the suffering we go through is part of the evidence that God loves us and has an inheritance saved up for us to receive in eternity (see Romans 8:17 and Hebrews 12:6, for instance).  

And, actually, we aren’t the only ones suffering, because all of creation is also suffering right now.  It has been suffering ever since the first sin that Adam committed thousands of years ago (when Adam sinned, God pronounced the whole world cursed, see Gen. 3:14-18).  But its suffering will end once all of God’s people are glorified at the end of all time.  Then, everything will be new.  This is why creation itself is waiting for God’s children (those who believe Jesus) to be glorified at the end of this present age.  After that happens, everything will be good again.

But until that time, while we are still weak and suffering now, the Spirit comes to our help.  For instance, when we can’t pray (or don’t know how), the Spirit starts praying for us.  And God always hears the prayers of His Spirit.  

Also, no matter how bad this life gets, God will work all these bad things together for good toward those who truly know Him.  Specifically, God is using all your trials to make you become more and more like Jesus (God’s son) from the inside-out.  So, when everything is said and done, those who truly believe and know God will come out shining in the end.  And only these people will be glorified, to draw attention to God Himself, and draw attention to God’s work in us.  

Closing Thoughts (Romans 8:31-39)


If God is on our side, who can stand against us?  

    If God gave up His own Son for us, do you think He will hold back other things you need (things for this life and the next)?

    If God’s own righteousness covers us through His Son, then we can be assured that we will always be righteous in God’s sight, regardless of what we do or did—as long as we believe Jesus.  

    If God’s Son beat death, and is on our side, how can we not also beat death and live forever?

    Can any of the suffering we go through—any of it—separated us from the love of God the Father and God the Son (as shown in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us)?  No!  No!  A million times, no!  

Do we have the right Old Testament?

Old Testament Contents

If you open up your Bible (at least ones in the Protestant tradition), you will find 39 books listed as the Old Testament:

  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Leviticus
  4. Numbers
  5. Deuteronomy
  6. Joshua
  7. Judges
  8. Ruth
  9. 1 Samuel
  10. 2 Samuel
  11. 1 Kings
  12. 2 Kings
  13. 1 Chronicles
  14. 2 Chronicles
  15. Ezra
  16. Nehemiah
  17. Esther
  18. Job
  19. Psalms
  20. Proverbs
  21. Ecclesiastes
  22. Song of Songs
  23. Isaiah
  24. Jeremiah
  25. Lamentations
  26. Ezekiel
  27. Daniel
  28. Hosea
  29. Joel
  30. Amos
  31. Obadiah
  32. Jonah
  33. Micah
  34. Nahum
  35. Habakkuk
  36. Zephaniah
  37. Haggai
  38. Zechariah
  39. Malachi

Hebrew/Jewish Bibles have the same books, but they reckon the numbering and ordering a little different. For instance, where the Christian Bible lists Malachi last, the Jewish Bible will list 2 Chronicles last.

Hebrew/Jewish Bibles also divide these books into 3 categories:

  1. Law (Hebrew, Torah) = Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  2. Prophets (Hebrew, Nevi’im) = Joshua, Judges, Samuel (1-2 Samuel included), Kings (1-2 Kings included), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Twelve “Minor Prophets” (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)
  3. Writings (Hebrew, Ketuvim) = Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles (1-2 Chronicles included)

In fact, you will sometimes hear people refer to the Jewish Bible as the Tanakh. This word is literally an acronym of these 3 divisions: Ta [short for Torah/Law] — Na [short for Nevi’im/Prophets] — Kh [short for Ketuvim/Writings] (see Wikipedia’s “Hebrew Bible”).

Only These Books?

This set of writings we call “Old Testament” (or “Hebrew Bible” or “Tanakh”) is a fixed canon. Meaning, no more writings could be added to this set.

The best way to confirm this is to look at Jesus’ own affirmations of the Old Testament. Remember, He lived and spoke hundreds of years after this collection of writings had been established and seen as God’s Scripture.

Jesus is not shy about quoting from these books. By one count, He affirms 24 of the 39 books of the Old Testament directly as Scripture (and does this with no other writings outside of the Old Testament). He also names various authors by name, specifically: Moses (John 5:46), Daniel (Matt. 24:15), David (Mark 12:36), and Isaiah (Matthew 15:7). As an aside, it is astounding to me that the 4 Old Testament authors most frequently doubted as being authentic in modern seminaries are these same 4 authors. Surely, Jesus knew and still knows today! Why won’t we just trust Him?

Beyond this, Jesus in 2 places affirms the entire Old Testament Canon (all 3 sections, which included all 39 Old Testament books):

The Law, Prophets, and Psalms

First, let’s look at Luke 24:44:

He [Jesus] said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Luke 24:44

Notice, Jesus mentions the 3-fold division of the Old Testament referenced earlier:

  1. The Law (of Moses)
  2. The Prophets
  3. The Writings (though Jesus calls it the Psalms, it seems this is because it is the first and largest book of that section)

Pause to consider the importance. Jesus is, in essence, affirming the whole of the Old Testament by referring to its 3 divisions, and showing that they are God’s word because they prophetically speak of Him (thus carry God’s authority). If the Old Testament books were in flux at this time, it seems inconceivable that He could refer to the fixed sections of the Old Testament in this way.

Bookends: Genesis & 2 Chronicles


In Luke 11:51 (and Matt. 23:35), Jesus references “bookends” of martyrs. Namely, He speaks of Abel as the first martyr and Zechariah as the last matyr. Why did He choose these 2 martyrs as starting and ending points? The death of Abel is recorded in Genesis 4, whereas the Zechariah Jesus refers to is found in 2 Chron. 24. Though there were other martyrs that died after Zechariah in 2 Chron. 24, he is the very last martyr listed in 2 Chronicles. This is significant because the fixed Jewish Bible of Jesus’ time began with Genesis and ended with 2 Chronicles (as it does today). Thus, this seemingly small reference to martyrs found in Luke 11 and Matthew 23 speak loudly that Jesus (and his audience) respected a fixed set (and order) of Old Testament books.

Brian Holda, “Why our Bible doesn’t have 1 Enoch” (2020)

Thus, from different angles Jesus affirms the Old Testament we hold today as a fixed set:

  • by referring to those books and authors solely as authoritative
  • by referencing the 3-fold divisions of that Old Testament
  • by referencing the “bookends” of that Old Testament

If Jesus thought the writings were in flux in His ministry, He would not have referenced them as if they were one established block of writings (which we call the Old Testament Canon).

Jewish Doubts?

Saying all this, it is true that some individuals and groups of Jews at the time of Jesus wondered or questioned if it was really “these 39 books and no more” (well, they would have numbered it differently, but were speaking of the same contents, so you get the idea). But even a casual reading of the gospels show that Jews of Jesus’ day believed all sorts of wrong things about God and the Bible. The question is, what does Jesus think? He should settle any doubts about peripheral views here or there on the matter by approving of what seems to be a mainline stance of many Jews of his day: that the 39 books of the Old Testament were truly God’s fixed Canon.

Council of Jamnia

Some have claimed that the Old Testament Canon wasn’t settled in Jesus’ day, and that the Jews had a “Council of Jamnia” that finally settled the Old Testament. But, from the research I’ve done, it seems more likely that such a council discussed books currently in the Old Testament Canon to see if they should stay there (as opposed to establishing if they should be there in the first place). And they kept those questioned books in there after all.

The 20th-century evangelical scholar F. F. Bruce thought that it was “probably unwise to talk as if there were a Council or Synod of Jamnia which laid down the limits of the Old Testament canon.” Other scholars have since joined in and today the theory is largely discredited. Some hold that the Hebrew canon was established during the Hasmonean dynasty (140–40 BCE).

Wikipedia’s “Council of Jamnia”

Apocryphal Books

Others have wondered about the “apocryphal books” that the Catholics include in their Bibles but Protestants don’t in theirs.

This is a big question that I can’t do justice here, but a well-respected Old Testament Scholar, Dr. Peter J. Williams, has made the point repeatedly that the closer the early Christians were to Jewish communities, the more they rejected the apocryphal writings (and only affirmed the Old Testament Canon we’ve been discussing in this article) (see various YouTube recordings by Peter J Williams discussing the Old Testament contents–sorry I don’t have a specific reference right now). But as those Christian communities were less connected with Jewish communities, they began entertaining some possibility of accepting apocryphal content (though never across-the-board).

Thus, the church would grow up to esteem the Old Testament Canon as Scripture, with mixed views on the apocryphal writings. This came to a head, a bit, in the time of the Reformation, at the Council of Trent when the Catholic Church officially acknowledged the apocryphal writings as “deuterocanonical”, which means “belonging to the second canon” (see Wikipedia’s, “Deuterocanonical Books”). Meaning, as I understand it, that they aren’t officially considered part of the 39 books of the Old Testament Books we’ve discussed here, but Catholics still see them as Scriptural. In contrast, Protestants (rightly) deny them as God’s Scripture.

Again, going into these books is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say, the Jewish communities of Jesus’ day, as well as Jesus Himself (who is infinitely more important), did not recognize the apocrypha as part of the Old Testament Canon, but only the fixed set mentioned in this article.


For a much deeper dive into this subject, I recommend:

Leading Jehovah Witnesses to Christ

By Bill Fisher


Below are resource links that can be useful in equipping Christians to witness to Jehovah’s Witnesses. One reason the cults thrive is because most Christians do not know how to effectively witness to counterfeit-christian groups.

There have traditionally been two approaches to dealing with Jehovah’s Witnesses: The first is to engage the Witness on a major doctrinal issue (e.g., deity of Christ). The second is to challenge the authority of the Watchtower Society (e.g., showing them to be a false prophet).

The weakness of the doctrinal approach is that truth may not be received until the authority of the Society is severed in the life of the Witness. The weakness of the authority approach is that the Witness may not consider leaving the Society until he sees a viable alternative. This is a real challenge, since the Society has convinced him that all churches are wrong.

While God’s grace has been demonstrated using both approaches, there is a third approach to which I have found Witnesses more sensitive and responsive. I call this the personal relationship approach, since it cuts right to the heart of the Witness’ need for reconciliation with God.

First, get the Witness to agree that all men need a mediator to be reconciled to God, and that there is only one who qualifies: Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5-6). Next, reveal that the Society teaches that the “great crowd” of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have Christ as their mediator (an issue the Watchtower seldom talks about, and therefore unknown to most Witnesses). Finally, impress upon the Witness his need for Christ as mediator.

You can follow up with the Society’s teaching that the “great crowd” also do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. The implications of this are huge, for without the indwelling Spirit of Christ, no one can please God, no matter how hard they try (Rom. 8:1-9).

I have dealt with Jehovah’s Witnesses for many years, from the Saturday morning door-to-door ones to full-time pioneers to hardened overseers. I have trained Christians how to defend the faith in Sunday school classes, evening services, and all day seminars. It is a privilege and responsibility to contend earnestly for the faith and make a defense when asked to give an account for the hope that is in me, in a way that others can see Christ in me–the hope of glory.

Let me know if I can be of further service,

Bill Fisher

See Also:

Open Eyes – Spread His Fame

“And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, ‘See that no one knows about it.’ But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.” (Matt. 9:30-31)

I love this on so many levels.

I continue to be legitimately unsure if Jesus would’ve liked them sharing or not. It goes against his command to them (con), but they were so eager to spread His name (pro).

Either way, I love the power of this–when God opens our eyes, we are compelled to run and share Him with others. The more our eyes are opened (i.e. the more revelation we have of Jesus and His work), the more I believe we will be compelled to share Him.

Along these lines, I encourage us to join Paul in his prayer:

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…

Ephesians 1:17-20
“Don’t Pass Me By” by Kristene DiMarco, feat. Jason Upton (4 min)

Michigan Life & Abortion Legal Briefing | Spring 2022

Written by Shannon Moloney, originally posted at Michigan Life & Abortion Legal Briefing | Spring 2022.

Abortion in Michigan

Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, there have been 63 million abortions in the United States. The total population of the United States is 330 million, meaning that total abortions over the past 49 years amount to 19% of our current population.

10 million of these abortions have been in Michigan. Michigan aborts 20,000/year, 560/week, or 80/day. This is roughly the equivalent of a Kindergarten class daily, or elementary school weekly.

Legal History in Michigan

In 1846, Michigan passed a law making abortion illegal. This law was reaffirmed in 1931. In 1972, a pro-abortion law was on our ballot, but didn’t pass. This means that our original 1846 law has been upheld 3 times, most recently in 1972.

In 1973, Roe v. Wade AND Doe v. Bolton were decided by the Supreme Court, both on the same day–January 22nd. While Roe made abortion a constitutional right up to the point of viability (generally interpreted as 20-24 weeks in the states), Doe allowed abortion up through 9-months of pregnancy in the case of the woman’s health (here, health was defined to include mental health). Together, these created the potentiality for unrestricted abortion access in all stages of pregnancy, in every state.

Being a federal decision, Roe took precedence over Michigan’s 1846 law and abortion became available in Michigan.

Over the past 49 years, pro-life legislative groups have enacted laws that protect women and reduce the amount of abortions in Michigan. This included a law regarding clinic cleanliness, which caused Muskegon’s abortion clinic to be shut-down. Other laws have enacted requirements such as a 24-hour waiting period, an ultrasound prior to the procedure, and parental consent for minors.

Currently in the Supreme Court

In December of 2021, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This case arose out of a 2018 law passed in Mississippi that banned abortion after 15-weeks. This 15-week limit challenges Roe’s viability clause (20-24 weeks weeks in most states), so has escalated to the Supreme Court. (This law has been temporarily blocked and is not currently being enforced in Mississippi.)

The Supreme Court is expected to settle this case before its recess in June, but many expect an answer as early as April, and both pro-life and pro-abortion groups feel confident that Roe will be overturned. Rumors in Washington echo this.

If Roe is overturned, abortion immediately becomes a state issue. Access will default to whatever laws states already have on their books. Michigan would immediately become one of the most pro-life states in the U.S., with abortion completely illegal.

Currently in Michigan

A group called “Reproductive Freedom for All,” funded by ACLU of Michigan, Planned Parenthood of Michigan, and Michigan Voices, has sprung-up and has filed with the Michigan Board of Canvassers to launch a petition which, if it receives enough signatures, will place a state constitutional amendment on the ballot this November.

This amendment to our state constitution would override the existing 1846 law, and dozens of others. In addition to protecting abortion access, it woud affect: parental consent for minors seeking abortions and sterilizations, bans on human cloning, bans on partial-birth abortions, ultrasound and 24-hour waiting requirements, rape and incest laws, safety requirements in abortion clinics, tax-payer funding for abortions, conscience protections, bans on commercialized surrogacy, reporting requirements for abortion complications, and even the requirement that licensed physicians must be the ones to perform abortions.

What This Means

Roe may soon be overturned, and abortion may become illegal in Michigan.

Reproductive Freedom for All has had their application approved by the Michigan Board of Canvassers, and has begun work to gather 425,059 signatures by July. If they receive enough valid signatures, this amendment will be on our ballot in November.

Already, but especially if Roe is overturned, there will be significant pressure to pass this amendment. Michigan will become a primary national example of pro-life AND pro-abortion legislation in a post-Roe world. Warren Buffet, George Soros, and Bill Gates are among those pouring money into this amendment campaign. Right to Life of Michigan expects that it will need an estimated 50 million to adequately run a counter-campaign, which will not be easy to fund.

Be prepared to: 

1)  Discourage and educate people away from signing the petition. And if the amendment makes it to our ballot, be prepared to do the same for the ballot.

2)  If Roe is overturned, be aware of the increased desperation of those facing unplanned pregnancy, and organizations meeting needs practically and legislatively.

3)  And most of all, pray! For our Supreme Court justices, for Michigan, and for the organizations on the frontlines of this work this year.

Further Information

Updated 4/8/22. Stay informed at, and

Faith Toward God (Hebrews 6:1) – AUDIO INCLUDED

Faith Toward God Audio (1 hr 18 min)

“the elementary doctrine…a foundation…faith toward God,” (Heb. 6:1)


Before examining the foundational doctrine of “faith toward God” in Heb. 6:1, I think it’s helpful to step back and consider the entirety of the book of Hebrews.

The problem addressed in this book was that Christians were starting to think they needed to revert back to Judaism and Jewish rituals that Christ has fulfilled. These rituals were no longer needed, and, in fact, would make them forfeit their trust in Christ and His sacrifice alone had they placed some trust in the rituals (see the stern warning in Heb. 6:4-8, for instance).

Hebrews 6:1-2

With the background of Hebrews in mind, now consider the warning in Heb. 6:1-2. Namely, the writer is telling his readers to MOVE BEYOND these foundations. Why? Because these 6 elements could equally be claimed by Jews who reject Christ and His sacrifice. All 6 of these doctrines would be agreed upon by Jews and Christians. Thus, if you don’t go beyond it, you aren’t standing on Christ’s sacrifice for salvation alone for your faith (and thus in jeopardy of eternal damnation).

Here are those 6 foundations, shared by Jews and Christians:

  1. Repentance from dead works – Jews and Christians affirm the need to repent (e.g. Matt. 12:41)
  2. Faith toward God – this is the one discussed in this article. Notice it doesn’t say, “Faith toward Christ”. This is because the writer is keeping the language generic enough that Jews and Christians can both affirm this. So, of course, Jews and Christians both see the importance in faith toward God (e.g. Romans 1:17; Habakkuk 2:4)
  3. Instruction about washings – this is a fun one! As I recall, F.F. Bruce explains in his Hebrews commentary that the Greek word used for “washings” is actually a new word created from merging the Jewish word for “ritual washings” with the New Testament word for “baptisms”. So, essentially, they are talking about washings-baptisms. Of course, washings is a fundamental Jewish practice (Heb. 9:10) while baptism is foundational Christian practice (Matt. 28:19)
  4. Laying on of hands – in Judaism, this practice happened whenever an animal was sacrificed. Of course, for Christians, Christ was the ultimate sacrifice and we should never seek any other sacrifice for sin (Heb. 6:6). However, the practice of laying hands for prayer and commissioning is a foundational Christian practice (see Laying Hands)
  5. Resurrection of the dead – both Jews and Christians affirm the general belief that the dead will later bodily resurrect (Dan 12:2; John 5:28-29)
  6. Eternal judgment – likewise, both Jews and Christians believe in a judgment that follows our death (Luke 16:19-31)

Repentance and Faith

In various places, including Hebrews 6:1, repentance and faith are seen together.

For instance, Jesus’ first commands in Mark are: “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).

I think of repentance and faith as the 2 empty hands we offer God to receive his free gift of salvation.

  • Repentance = submitting your will to Jesus as Lord.
  • Faith = trusting Jesus (and his work) for your salvation.

Prodigal Son: Repentance and Faith

A picture of repentance and faith can be seen in the Prodigal Son story of Luke 15:11-31.

This parable is set alongside 2 others, and all expressly point toward a sinner repenting unto salvation (see Luke 15:7, 10).

The Son:

  • changed his will (and an action followed) = repentance
  • received the garments, feast, and generosity of the Father = faith

Day of Atonement: Repentance and Faith

Another beautiful picture of us repenting and believing the gospel unto salvation is seen in the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16).

If you read that chapter, you’ll see that this was a festival celebrated 1 day out of the year to cover people’s sins (“atonement” means “covering”), and get them right with God.

But there is really only 1 person who is working the whole time (and he is very busy!). That is, the high priest. He is slaughtering the animals, offering the blood, putting on all the garments the right way, and risking his life–all on behalf of the people. The high priest does all the work, and if God receives his sacrifice, he comes back alive and shows himself to the people. Sound familiar?

Indeed, in Hebrews we read about Jesus being our High Priest. His blood is the sacrifice, He takes it to heaven (the ultimate “holy of holies”), and then came back alive! He did all that work so our sins could be covered/atoned, and we could be reconciled with God.

Meanwhile, the people only had to do 2 things to receive this amazing forgiveness (see Lev. 16:29-31):

  1. Afflict their souls
  2. Rest

Afflicting their souls is clearly akin to repentance, in that we are convicted that we fall short of God’s glory and must surrender contritely to Him.

Meanwhile, resting–you guessed it–speaks to faith. In fact, Hebrews 3-4 diagrams precisely how faith in God’s finished work is our ultimate Sabbath-rest. “So we see that they were not able to enter [God’s sabbath-rest], because of their unbelief…anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,” (Heb. 3:19-4:10).

The sabbath was instituted after God had worked 6 days. Then man and woman were created after all that, and their first full day was a day of rest. Our sabbath is resting in God’s finished work on the cross. When we place faith/trust completely in Christ’s work as atoning our sins (and place ZERO confidence in our own works), we are atoned. In fact, there is a stern warning that anyone who does any work on that Day of Atonement will be destroyed (Lev. 23:30). A similar warning is in Galatians, for Christians: if you preach a different gospel that places trust in your own works unto salvation, you will be eternally condemned (see Gal. 1:6-10).

Thus, as Israel afflicted their souls and rested to receive the atoning work of the High Priest (Lev. 16), so we repent and believe to receive the atoning work of Christ, our High Priest!

Faith Defined

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Notice here that it is an “assurance” and “conviction” of something unseen.

And as we saw earlier, faith is compared elsewhere in Hebrews to resting. Namely, resting in God’s works not your own.

Further, linguist and Bible translator, Peter Williams, has said that Biblical faith probably most closely aligns with our English word, “trust.”

Putting this all together, we see that faith is a confidence/trust/resting in something we don’t see visibly.

Faith Comes

We are told that God gives faith:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God

Ephesians 2:8

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Romans 12:3

And we see that He gives it through the His word. That is, as God’s word is presented to people, it is like a seed. Those who receive it in their heart, have the beginning of biblical faith:

faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ

Romans 10:17

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

James 1:18

As such, in the famous episode of Peter walking on the water in faith, he begins by saying:

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

Matt. 14:28

In other words, he needed to hear Jesus’ word, and then he could exercise his faith to walk.

Hear, Believe, See

Along these lines, we see that the Biblical order of event is:

  1. Hear God’s word
  2. Receive it as truth (i.e. trust/believe it)
  3. See it transpire in reality
  • Gen. 1:3ff; Gen. 45:27-28; Prov. 20:12; Luke 24:13-32; John 21:4-12; Rev. 1:10-12
  • God first revealed Himself through O.T. Scriptures, then by coming in the flesh 
  • Nature: a child in the womb hears first, sees blurry later, then sees fully

And, as said above, Peter:

  1. Heard Christ’s word say “Come”
  2. Believed it
  3. Exercised this faith by walking on the water (Matt. 14:22-33)

“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!'” (Matt. 14:30). Thus, when he trusted in sight, his experience followed.

You’ll notice this is the opposite of the world’s teaching to “believe it AFTER you see it.” Biblical faith hears, then believes, and afterwards sees it.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!

Psalm 27:13

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

John 11:40

I’m reminded of the story of Brother Yun miraculously having his legs healed and restored in prison. He was in prison for a while on account of the gospel. His legs had been so bashed in that he couldn’t even walk on his own strength, but had to be carried everywhere. Then the Lord spoke to Him to walk out of the maximum security where he was held. He struggled with doubts and responded to the Lord saying something like, “My legs can’t stand; there are guards all around; the doors are locked. How can I walk out of here?” And the Lord said something to the effect of, “these things are facts, but I am Truth. The facts will bow to truth. Hear and obey.” And sure enough he got up, and started walking, and as he went his legs were restored and miraculously walked right out of that prison.

Or, in the Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee tells the experience of teaching someone that he had been crucified with Christ. The person protests that his experience makes him distrust that he’s truly been crucified with Christ. So Nee responds by asking, “Did you see Jesus crucified? Did you see the 2 thieves on the cross crucified? No, yet you believe it’s so because the Bible says it. So why do you demand extra proof when God says you, too, have been crucified. If you would first trust this word, then you would see it begin to come to pass.” (my paraphrase)

Faith Rests

I would add that, according to 1 Cor. 2, God-honoring faith rests on God and His power AND NOT the wisdom and cleverness of man (1 Cor. 2:1-5). I believe restless faith comes when people keep reverting to trusting in their own wisdom or the wisdom of others, and then it gets jostled by someone else’s “counter claims” and “wisdom” that teaches the opposite.

Instead, Biblical faith comes from revelation and, “rests…on God’s power,” (1 Cor. 2:5).

Faith Grows

Quality Over Quantity

It should be stressed before we talk about growing our faith that God honors small, quality faith over large-but-insincere faith:

if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you

Matt 17:20

He [Jesus] replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

Luke 17:6

But saying that, God also exhorts us to grow our faith, and shows ways to do this.

Obedience Grows Faith

Immediately after the disciples ask for more faith in Luke 17 (in response to Jesus’ lofty command to forgive generously), Jesus tells them:

  1. Small faith can still be powerful (Luke 17:6)
  2. Obey what God says (Luke 17:7-10)

Then Luke tells the story of 10 lepers being healed. Notice that He speaks a healing word over them, but then gives them a command, “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” (17:14). And only after they obey this do they experience the healing. Then, 1 returns to Jesus to praise God. And it is this one where Jesus says, “your faith has made you well,” (Luke 17:19).

In all of this, we observe that, in some measure, obeying the Lord with the little faith you do have can lead to greater faith.

A similar thing, I think, happens in John 21 when they are fishing and Jesus is resurrected. Initially, they only hear a voice from an unrecognized man say, “try the other side.” And then, only after they obey this voice, do they see the miracle. And after this, the apostles recognize that, “It is the Lord!” (21:7). Notice that obedience even before they were 100% sure it was Jesus gave them fuller faith and conviction that it was indeed Jesus.

Prayer Grows Faith

According to Jude 1:20 and 1 Cor. 14:4, praying in the Spirit (and Spirit-led prayer) is part of how God has established our faith to grow.

God’s Church Grows Faith

Similarly, there is a Spiritual gift of faith (1 Cor. 12) that comes to some, while Spirit-led church meetings can serve to generally grow our faith (see 1 Cor. 14).

Scripture Grows Faith

Additionally, we saw earlier that faith comes from Scripture itself, and thus a devotion to Scripture will further grow our faith (Rom. 10:17)

…toward God

The last thing to consider here, is that Hebrews 6:1 does not speak of, “faith,” alone. It is faith toward God.

As said earlier, faith is a conviction/trust/resting in someone or something. Thus, the faith that God is looking for is a faith that trusts and rests entirely on God:

Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Hebrews 11:6

Here we see that biblical faith includes 2 components:

  1. Trusting that the God of the Bible exists as He claims He does.
  2. Trusting that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

These 2 components see their ultimate and full expression in faith toward Christ and the gospel:

  1. That you believe Jesus is God: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent,” “if you do not believe that I am He [God], you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 6:29; 8:24)
  2. That you believe Jesus’ life, death, and bodily resurrection fully atoned your sins: “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you…you have believed…Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared…this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1 Cor. 15:2-11)