• Christ and Church Life and Building Spirit and Bride

    基督與召會
    生命與建造
    那靈與新婦



    As a lover of Christ and a pursuer of truth, I write down my joys, memories and reflections.

    May God lead us all into the secret of His presence, and build us into the oneness of His body in love.
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Gospel Questions and Answers

QUESTION

Are our sins “covered over” (Rom. 4:7) or “put away” (Heb. 9:26)? What is the distinction between these two?

ANSWER

Our sins are “put away,” not “covered.” Hebrews 9:26 says clearly that the Lord was manifested once at the consummation of the ages to offer Himself as a sacrifice to put away sin.

How then can the phrase “covered over” in Romans 4:7 be explained? We must realize that the words of this verse are quoted from Psalm 32:1. In the entire New Testament, except for this verse, we cannot find another verse that says our sins are covered over before God. “Covered over” signifies that the sins of the people of the Old Testament time were covered over. In the Old Testament, every sin was only covered over and not put away until the death of the Lord Jesus. For “He is the Mediator of a new covenant, so that, death having taken place for redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant..” (Heb. 9:15).

Let us first remember that “redemption” or “atonement” in the Old Testament means “to cover up” in the original language. In the New Testament there is no other place, except in Romans 4:7, where the phrase “covered over” is quoted. Second, in the Bible, the word propitiation, except in a few cases where it is translated in conjunction with cover, refers to a “sin offering,” that is, a sacrifice offered for sins. Jesus Christ is the sin offering. He offered Himself for our sins; He did not cover our sins.

The Lord Jesus came to put away our sins, not to cover them. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

QUESTION

Are we saved by God’s grace or by God’s righteousness? What part of salvation is accomplished by God’s grace, and what part is by God’s righteousness?

ANSWER

Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved.” This indicates that we are saved by God’s grace.

Romans 3:25 and 26 say, “Whom God set forth as a propitiation place through faith in His blood, for the demonstrating of His righteousness..with a view to the demonstrating of His righteousness in the present time, so that He might be righteous and the One who justifies him who is of the faith of Jesus.” This shows us that salvation is also by God’s righteousness.

God’s grace provides a Savior for us, so that we have the possibility of being saved (John 3:16), while God’s righteousness causes salvation to be accomplished upon us, so that God must save us. The part from the Lord’s birth through His death and resurrection to His ascension, has been accomplished for us by God’s grace, while the part since the Lord’s ascension until now is accomplished for us by His righteousness.

Grace can be given or withheld according to God’s pleasure, but righteousness allows no choice. Since Christ has died and been raised, God must save you if you believe. If you believe and God does not save you, then He is not righteous. What does 1 John 1:9 say? Does it say, “If we confess our sins, He is merciful and loving to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”? No. It says, “He is faithful and righteous.” The blood of His Son has cleansed us from all sins. When we believe, God must save us. God cannot be unfaithful, because His word has already been spoken. He cannot be unrighteous because the blood of His Son has been shed. Therefore, we thank and praise God, for He must save us!

All unrighteousness is sin. God cannot be unrighteous, therefore He must save us. Saying that God may not forgive us is like saying that He is unfaithful and unrighteous. We must lay hold of God’s righteousness. He delights in our laying hold of His righteousness. For us to lay hold of God’s righteousness is to honor Him.

QUESTION

Are we saved by the righteousness of God (Rom. 3:21-26) or by the righteousness of Christ? What is the meaning of each, and what is the difference between them?

ANSWER

It is the righteousness of God which saves us.

What is the righteousness of God? Romans 3:25 and 26 say, “Whom God set forth as a propitiation place through faith in His blood, for the demonstrating of His righteousness, in that in His forbearance God passed over the sins that had previously occurred, with a view to the demonstrating of His righteousness in the present time, so that He might be righteous and the One who justifies him who is of the faith of Jesus.” The propitiation place is on the ark. It is here that God meets with men. God has set forth Jesus to be the propitiation place; therefore, He can contact man only through Christ. If there were no propitiation place on the ark, the law in the ark would condemn man’s sin. But with the blood on the propitiation place, the law cannot condemn man’s sin, because the requirements of the law have been fulfilled. In this, God’s righteousness is demonstrated, which means that God is righteous.

According to the law, whoever sins must die. But since the Lord Jesus died for you, you do not need to die. Therefore, forgiveness is granted by God according to His righteousness. Suppose someone owes you one hundred dollars and gives you a promissory note. When he returns the one hundred dollars, you should return the promissory note to him in order to cancel the debt. If you did not return the note and continued to demand payment from him, you would be an unrighteous person. You have sinned, and you deserve to die. But you applied the blood of Christ to repay your debt of sin. So now God can ask nothing further from you. You are now forgiven because of God’s righteousness. Regardless of the circumstances, God must forgive you because the Lord Jesus has died for you.

First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “Faithful” refers to God’s word. Whatever God says will stand. “Righteous” refers to the fact that the work done by Christ is accomplished. Since Christ has satisfied God’s requirement for us, God can no longer require anything from us. God’s Word says that he who believes will be forgiven. When we believe, God must forgive us. Since Christ has died, God’s requirements have been met, and God must forgive us. Both God’s forbearance of the sins committed by men in the past and His justification of those who believe at present manifest that He is righteous.

God not only justifies us, He also wants us to regard Him as righteous. In other words, He wants us to realize that He is very righteous in the way He treats us. Jesus is a man just as we also are men. As sin entered into the world by one man, it is also taken away by one man. The sin of Adam was not just one individual’s problem; it became the problem of all mankind. Adam is the head, and we are all a part of him. The same is true with being in Christ; when Christ died, we also died, and when Christ resurrected, life flowed into us. We do not need to pitifully beg God to forgive us. Since Christ has died for us, God must forgive us. When we believe, we are saved.

In the entire New Testament, we cannot find one verse which says that Christ’s righteousness saves us.

Christ’s righteousness only gives Him the proper qualification to be the Savior. His righteousness refers to His own good conduct. He saves us by His death, not by His righteousness. His death fulfills the righteousness of God. His righteousness is like the veil in the tabernacle made of four different colors. He alone can come and appear before God; all others are kept outside the veil. Only when the veil was rent (when Christ died) was a new and living way opened, and only then could we draw near to God (Heb. 10:20).

How then do we explain 1 Corinthians 1:30: “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom to us from God: both righteousness and sanctification and redemption”; and 1 Peter 3:18: “the Righteous on behalf of the unrighteous”? We need to ask whether these two verses both refer to Christ’s righteousness. No, they do not. First Corinthians 1 says that Christ Himself became our righteousness. First Peter 3 says that the Lord Jesus Himself is righteous; He is qualified to be a substitute for us who are unrighteous.

Regarding 2 Peter 1:1, “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have been allotted faith equally precious as ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” “Righteousness” here can also be translated as “fairness” or “justice.” This means that He is not a respecter of persons. He has given the same precious faith to all, to those believers who have come first or come last, and to both the Jews and the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:34, 44; 15:8-9).

QUESTION

Why, in God’s plan of redemption, must Christ be both God and man at the same time?

ANSWER

Suppose there are three persons: A, B, and C. Person C has sinned, and A asks B to die for C. This would show that A has love toward C, and that C has answered the requirements of the law; however, this is rather unjust to B. I sinned, and God caused Christ to die for me. Although this shows God’s love and although I meet the requirements of the law, this is rather unjust to Christ. Only when Christ is both God and man is this just.

First, we need to know what forgiveness is. Forgiveness means that the one who forgives takes the loss upon himself. It means that the forgiver is suffering the loss of the forgiven one. The loss is on the side of the one who forgives. For instance, if someone owes you ten dollars, and you forgive him, we can say that you bore the loss since you suffered the loss of ten dollars.

In God’s plan of redemption, Christ should not be a third party. If Christ is a third party, then God is unrighteous toward Him because He has no sin and does not deserve to die. The Bible tells us that man has sinned and that God is the One whom man has sinned against. The relationship here is a two-party relationship between God and man. Asking a third party to die in a substitutionary way may, perhaps, satisfy God’s righteousness, and it may meet the law’s demand on man, but this is rather unrighteous for the third party. It is righteous only because Christ is both God and man.

Micah 6:6 and 7 say, “With what shall I come before Jehovah/And bow myself before the high God?/Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,/With one-year-old calves?/ Will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams,/With tens of thousands of rivers of oil?/Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,/The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” These verses say that when we have sinned against God, not only is an offering of rams of no avail, all the sacrifices are of no value. Even offering up our own offspring is of no avail. In order for Christ to not be a third party, He must be God since He Himself is the One being offended. The work of propitiation for sins is righteous only because Christ is God. Conversely, since the work of propitiation for sins is righteous, Christ must be God because only the one who is offended can forgive the one who offends. Who can say forgiveness is unrighteous? Christ is God; He is the offended One and, therefore, He can forgive men.

Romans 7:10 says, “And the commandment, which was unto life, this very commandment was found to me to be unto death.” Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.” These verses show us that a person has to fully keep the law in order to live; otherwise he must die. In order for the Lord to make us live, He had to suffer the penalty of sin; He had to die. However, 1 Timothy 6:16 says that God alone has immortality. Therefore, Christ must also be a man in order to die for us. He had to take a body upon Himself so that He could die for us. He is God; this makes His salvation of men righteous. He is a man; this makes His salvation of men possible.

QUESTION

On the cross Christ said, “It is finished,” indicating that the work of the cross was complete. Why then could we still not be saved if He had not resurrected?

ANSWER

When Christ said, “It is finished,” on the cross, it meant that redemption was finished; it did not mean that salvation was finished. Redemption, the objective aspect, was accomplished by Christ. Salvation, the subjective aspect, is accomplished only when we are personally saved. Our joining to Christ in the subjective aspect involves a union with Christ’s resurrection. Therefore, if He had not resurrected, we could not be saved.

Romans 8:2 says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has freed me in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and of death.” Notice that this verse speaks of being freed from two laws, the law of sin and the law of death. The death of Christ dealt with sin; whereas, the resurrection of Christ dealt with death. Christ did away with sin through His death and nullified death through His resurrection. Christ’s death only solved the problem of sin. Christ’s resurrection solved the problem of death. We are not only sinful people but also dead people. The Lord died on the cross to save us from being in the position of sinners, and He resurrected to save us from being in the position of dead men.

If the Lord had not died on the cross, we would be both sinful and dead. If the Lord had only died without being resurrected, we would no longer be sinners, but we would still remain dead men. Resurrection destroys the power of death. Death satisfies God; it takes care of the objective need and deals with the law. Resurrection satisfies us; it takes care of the subjective need and gives life to us. If we only preach Christ’s death, without preaching His resurrection, we are preaching only one half of the gospel. In reading the book of Acts, we see that the apostles paid a great deal of attention to the Lord’s resurrection.

The blood is spoken of more than four hundred times in the Bible. The blood was brought before God to satisfy God. However, this happened after resurrection (Heb. 9:12). While the Lord’s death must be heeded, it cannot be separated from resurrection. Death was followed by resurrection. Without resurrection there can be no salvation, because we are regenerated by God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Pet. 1:3).

The Bible is full of the truth of resurrection. The New Testament and the Old Testament are filled with resurrection. Abraham offered up Isaac because he believed in resurrection. The Israelites’ crossing of the Jordan River and the budding of Aaron’s rod typify resurrection. First Corinthians 15:3 and 4 say, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures;…He has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” The Scriptures in this verse refer to the Old Testament. This shows that both the death and resurrection of Christ are according to the Old Testament.

We praise and thank God that His Son not only died for us but was also resurrected for us. He dealt not only with the law of sin but also with the law of death. He saves us not only from being in the position of sinners but also from being in the position of dead men.

QUESTION

There are two aspects to the crucifixion of Christ: being crucified by man and being crucified by God. Acts 2:23 and 36 and 3:15 speak of being crucified by men, while Isaiah 53:6 and 10 speak of being crucified by God. Which part of Christ’s crucifixion was done by man and which part was done by God?

ANSWER

When we read the Bible, we can clearly see that the crucifixion of Christ involves the matters of man crucifying Him and God crucifying Him. From the seven sentences spoken by the Lord on the cross, we can understand which part of the crucifixion was done by man and which part was done by God. According to human time, the crucifixion lasted for six hours. During the first three hours, the Lord spoke three sentences, and during the last three hours, He spoke four sentences. Why did He not speak more or less during the first three hours? If we read carefully, we realize that the first three hours of the crucifixion were the work of man, while the last three hours were the work of God.

During the first three hours, lasting from nine in the morning until noon (Mark 15:25), man was mocking, scourging, reproaching, crucifying, and railing at the Lord on the cross. All this was heaped upon Him by man.

In the last three hours, lasting from noon until three in the afternoon, the crucifixion was the work of God. We know this because from noon until three there was darkness over all the land. This was definitely beyond man’s capacity. The veil of the temple was also suddenly split in two from top to bottom. This was also beyond man’s capability. Furthermore, the earth was shaken, rocks were split, and even tombs were opened (Matt. 27:45, 51-52). All of these could not be the work of man. They were altogether the work of God.

During the first part of the Lord Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross, man did everything that he could do. During the last part, God also did all that He could do. The first part of the crucifixion expressed all the hatred of man toward God. The last part revealed all the love of God toward man. Therefore, one might say that the cross is the meeting point of love and hatred.

Now let us look at the three sentences spoken by the Lord during the first three hours.

First, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). How could God forgive those who murdered an innocent person? How could the Lord even pray in such a way? If God answered this prayer, would He not become unrighteous? In order to answer this, we must be clear that the Lord Jesus was crucified on the cross in order to bear the sin of the world. The righteous God could forgive our sins only by the cross because “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). Furthermore, only from His position on the cross could the Lord Jesus pray such a prayer. Otherwise, the Lord Jesus’ prayer as well as God’s forgiveness would have been unrighteous.

Second, He said, “Truly I say to you, Today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). How could such a thief enter into Paradise? If all the thieves were permitted to enter into Paradise, would it still be a Paradise? These, however are only man’s considerations. In the eyes of God, not only are thieves barred from Paradise, but even the so-called good people are unqualified to enter because, in Adam, all have sinned (Rom. 5:12). The Lord Jesus was able to speak to the repentant thief in this way because He is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5) and because He is the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Through the eternal Spirit, He offered Himself to God without spot or blemish. Therefore, His blood can purge man’s conscience from dead works (Heb. 9:14). The thief in Paradise is no longer a thief, but one whose conscience has been purged from dead works. Today all who receive Him, that is, all who believe in His name, will have the same experience.

Third, He said, “Woman, behold, your son….Behold, your mother” (John 19:26-27). This verse shows us that because of the Lord’s accomplishment on the cross, we have a new relationship with God and with man. We are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. We have fellowship not only with God but also with one another. John was not the only one who could receive Mary as his mother according to the word of the Lord. Later, even Paul (Rom. 16:13) and all the saints throughout the ages also shared this kind of feeling. How marvelous it is that by having the same life, a new relationship is produced among all the saints.

After the Lord Jesus had spoken these three sentences, there was darkness over all the land. God heard the prayer of the Lord, and He laid all the sins of the world upon the Lord Jesus. God made Him who knew no sin become sin on our behalf. God not only saves us according to His grace; He also saves us according to His righteousness. God not only has mercy on us; He also paid the price for us and repaid everything we ever owed.

At about three in the afternoon, the Lord spoke four more sentences. Fourth, He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). Many martyrs, who experience man’s persecution and severe punishment, do not show any sign of sorrow or self-pity. Rather, they feel that God is very near to them. Our Lord was obedient to God all His life. Therefore, if He was only crucified on the cross through the persecution of man, God should have been much nearer to Him! How could God ever forsake Him when man forsook Him? Thank and praise God! On the cross our Lord did not die a martyr’s death; rather, He died bearing the sins of all mankind. God put our sins upon Him, and God crucified Him. After the Lord spoke the first three sentences, God heard the Lord Jesus’ prayer and put all the sins of mankind upon Him. Then the Lord knew that God had forsaken Him.

Fifth, He said, “I thirst” (John 19:28). Thirstiness is a condition of hell, a characteristic of the suffering of hell. The rich man in Luke 16 was in the fire of Hades without a drop of water. There is no other place that causes more thirst than hell. At that moment the Lord suffered the punishment of hell on man’s behalf and tasted death for every man because He bore our sins (Heb. 2:9).

Sixth, He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). This indicates that the work of redemption was finished. The Lord had borne the sins of man and received the penalty of sin for man.

Seventh, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). Earlier the Lord had said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He said this because He was standing on the ground of bearing man’s sins. But here He was able to say, “Father,” because after the redemptive work was accomplished, His fellowship with the Father was instantly restored. The Lord laid down His life voluntarily, and He committed His life to God. He said, “No one takes it away from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it again” (John 10:18). If He had not done so, not even a hundred crosses could have taken the Lord’s life away.

Our sins have been taken away by the most righteous Lord. According to His righteousness, God can no longer choose to forgive or not forgive us; He must forgive us because Christ has already died and become the sin offering.

Since the Lord did not accomplish the work of redemption until His death on the cross, perhaps some will ask how He could have forgiven man’s sins before His death. This is possible because God reckoned the cross as an accomplished fact even before Christ’s death. John 3:15 says, “That every one who believes into Him may have eternal life.” John 6:54 says, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.” These passages show us that even when the Lord was on the earth, everyone who believed in Him could have eternal life. Revelation 13:8 says, “The Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world.” The Lord is the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world. Therefore, the church is not limited by space (for the Body of Christ is one), while the cross is not limited by time (for even in the Old Testament, God could forgive people). In the Old Testament, anyone who killed another person accidentally could flee to a city of refuge where no one could seize his life, and he would be free when the high priest died (Num. 35:25-28). This signifies that even before Christ’s death, if anyone hid in Christ, he would be safe and free upon the death of Christ.

QUESTION

John 19:30 says, “It is finished!” Colossians 1:24 says, “Fill up…that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ.” What does it mean to be “finished,” and what does it mean to be “lacking”?

ANSWER

At first glance these two verses seem to contradict each other. But if you read them carefully, you will see the distinction between them.

In John 19:30, “It is finished” refers to the redemption of the Lord Jesus; it refers to the punishment which the Lord received on the cross, the suffering for sins which the Lord received from God’s hand on the cross.

The term afflictions is sometimes translated as “tribulations” or “distresses.” The “afflictions” in Colossians 1:24 refer to the afflictions received from human hands. No one can share the afflictions which Christ received from God’s hand. The afflictions that Christ received from God have already been accomplished. But, at the same time, our experience of the afflictions which Christ suffered from man’s hands is still lacking. This is the portion that every Christian should fill up.

Although the work of redemption has already been accomplished, many Christians have not clearly comprehended it. Some think that if they are good in their behavior, they are qualified to go to heaven and able to go boldly and confidently. But if they misbehave, they are not as bold, and they think that they can only crawl into heaven. Actually, there is no such thing! Suppose that the thief who was nailed on the cross did not die after he believed in the Lord. Suppose, instead, that he came down from the cross and lived for many more years. If, during that time, he accomplished ten times more work than Paul, loved ten times deeper than John, and saved ten times more people than Peter, would all of these works make any difference in whether he could go to heaven on the day of his crucifixion? Would they make him any more worthy? All those who know the grace of God would say that he would not be any worthier than before, because all of the qualifications for going to heaven were completely accomplished by the Lord. Among those who believe in the Lord, no one is unworthy, and no one is more worthy to go to heaven. Christ has accomplished the work of redemption. No one can add anything more to it. Even if a person becomes a so-called holy man, his qualifications for going to heaven are still based on what Christ gave to him when He said, “It is finished.”

We should not be misled to think that believers cannot sin. No, definitely not. If a saved believer misbehaves, he is not disqualified from heaven, but he will not be able to enter the kingdom. Our behavior does not affect our entrance into heaven in any way. Even God cannot change this fact. We have been judged, and we have died because the Lord Jesus was nailed on the cross. God cannot be unrighteous. God in Christ has already accepted the death of Christ as our death, and He cannot judge or condemn us again. It is finished; this fact is unchangeable. But if we sin, we will be cast out of the kingdom and left outside of the glory of the kingdom.

There are two passages in Romans which specifically speak of God’s glory. One says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23), and the other says, “Through whom also we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand and boast because of the hope of the glory of God” (5:2). We fall short of the glory of God because of sins; whereas we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God because of the blood. Whatever loss sin has incurred, the blood has replenished and replenished with added abundance. Because of the death of Christ, we can “boast because of the hope of the glory of God.”

The redemptive work of Christ is finished, but there is still a lack of the afflictions of Christ. He has accomplished redemption, but does everyone know what He has accomplished? Many still do not know. Therefore, we should tell people what Christ has accomplished. Christ preached the gospel only to the people who contacted Him directly, and His preaching was limited only to those in that generation. His afflictions among mankind are still lacking. This is why we have to take the responsibility to preach today. When we do this, we will inevitably meet afflictions. Preaching the gospel will cost us our face. Even distributing a gospel tract is very embarrassing. Yet this is something we must bear. Christ has accomplished the work of redemption, but the preaching of this work of redemption is still lacking. Therefore, we must go and preach.

QUESTION

At what moment were we crucified with Christ? Was it between the time He was put on the cross and the time He expired, or was it at the very moment He expired?

ANSWER

If we understand question thirty-two, we can conclude that we were crucified with Christ at the moment He expired. Prior to His expiration, He was engaged in the work of redemption, bearing our sins, and dying for us. If we were crucified with Him during that time, we would have been participating in His redemption and, thereby, we would have become saviors. Saying this would be a great mistake.

Some say that since the Lord Jesus was on the cross for six hours and did not die instantly, we must also have been crucified with Him for six hours. If this were the case, we would have also participated in the Lord’s redemption. This is absolutely not so. We died with Christ at the moment He expired. The only One who suffered was the Lord Himself, but the effect is ours. We thank and praise God!

QUESTION

What is the difference between the significance and function of the blood and the significance and function of the cross? Why does the Bible never say that we shed blood with the Lord but only that we were crucified with the Lord?

ANSWER

Because some may ask, “Since sins have been taken away before God, why is sin still with us?”, we ought to pay attention to this question in order to eliminate any doubt.

Many places throughout the Bible tell us that the Lord shed His blood. Many other places tell us that the Lord was crucified. Are the significance and function of the blood the same as the significance and function of the cross? Are they interchangeable? For example, could we change “Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22) to “Without crucifixion is no remission”? Or could we change “Knowing this, that our old man has been crucified with Him” (Rom. 6:6) to “Knowing this, that our old man shed blood with Him”? If the significance and function of the blood are the same as that of the cross, then they are interchangeable. But if they are not interchangeable, then their significance and function must be different.

Then what is the significance and function of the blood, and what is the significance and function of the cross?

Let us look first at the matter of the blood. There are over four hundred references in the Bible to the blood. Why does God require the blood? Why does God need to slay whoever dares to come into His presence without the blood? Leviticus 17:11 says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make propitiation for your souls; for it is the blood which, by the life, makes propitiation.” This verse clearly tells us that the blood is for propitiation. Where is propitiation made? It is made upon the altar. The work of the blood is before God; it is not in us. The blood propitiates for us before God so that God considers our sins as having been taken away. However, it does not cleanse us from sin inwardly.

Perhaps some may ask, “Does not 1 John 1:7 tell us that `the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from every sin’?” Yes it does, but we must remember that whenever the Bible mentions cleansing from sins by the blood, it always refers to a cleansing before God. The first part of this verse says, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” Then it says, “And the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from every sin.” This cleansing is before God. The function of the blood is altogether a matter before God. God requires the blood. He requires that we come before Him with the blood.

Some may ask, “Does not Hebrews 9:14 say that His blood can purify man’s conscience?” Yes it does, but we must realize that “purify” refers to the purifying of the conscience, not to the purifying of the sinful nature. Our sinful nature has never been purified by the blood. In the entire Bible, there is no mention of the blood purifying our old nature, nor does it mention the blood purifying the flesh. The blood only cleanses us from the sins that we have before God. The blood only purifies our conscience so that we may freely and boldly come before God. “And without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (v. 22). With the blood there is forgiveness of sins, and therefore, we have peace. “Having therefore, brothers, boldness for entering the Holy of Holies in the blood of Jesus, which entrance He initiated for us as a new and living way through the veil, that is, His flesh” (10:19-20). The blood, not the cross, is brought to the heavens. The Bible tells us that the Lord Jesus shed His blood. We did not share in the Lord’s shedding of the blood. The blood remits and takes away our sins before God. Let us hold fast to this fact.

Many people do not have freedom before God because they misunderstand the function of the blood; they assume that the blood is for cleansing away the sin within man. Therefore, they can never see the function and effect of the blood. The cleansing spoken of in 1 John 1:7 does not refer to the cleansing away of inward sin or to cleansing away the root of sin. Rather, it refers to the cleansing before God. God alone demands the blood, and only the blood of the Lord Jesus can satisfy God’s heart. Therefore, we can freely draw near to God by the blood at any time. Whether we feel that our sins are great or small, rough or refined, forgivable or unforgivable, all these sins are cleansed away before God. “Though your sins are like scarlet,/They will be as white as snow” (Isa. 1:18). What does this mean? It means that every scar and trace of your sins can be erased just as if you never sinned. This refers to your condition before God. Although there is still nothing good within you, before God and in His eyes, your sins have been taken away.

When we read Numbers 20:2-9 and 21:4-9, we realize how bad the children of Israel were when they were in the wilderness. They sinned and murmured against God. Yet Numbers 23:21 says, “He has not beheld iniquity in Jacob; /Nor has He seen trouble in Israel./Jehovah their God is with them,/And the shout of a king is among them.” This is true. We must note that there are two aspects to dealing with sin: one is before God, and the other is in us. The blood cleanses us of our sins before God so that God sees no unrighteousness in us.

QUESTION

How can we reconcile John 1:12-13, which says that receiving life is not of the “will of man,” and Revelation 22:17, which says that whosoever will can take life?

ANSWER

Since ancient times, this question has been debated by many theologians. One school claims that salvation is wholly a matter of man’s will, whereas another school claims that salvation is wholly a matter of God’s will. We must realize that there are often two sides to God’s truth. If we are not careful, we can become unbalanced. There is a tendency for man to hold on to one extreme or the other.

Is the matter of salvation entirely a matter of man’s will or God’s will? Actually, it involves both aspects. Without God’s will to save, no one could be saved. At the same time, if man is not willing to be saved, God has no way even though He has the will. Therefore, not only does God have to be willing, but man must also be willing. The Lord Jesus said, “How often I desired to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her own brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Luke 13:34). These are the two sides of God’s truth. It takes a willingness on both sides. With only one side, salvation cannot be accomplished. If we want to know the truth, we should not lay hold of only one side of the truth. When Satan tempted the Lord, he said, “It is written,” but the Lord replied, “Again, it is written.” No doubt it is written, but we must also pay attention to what is written again. Just laying hold of one or even a few verses to prove a side of the truth is inadequate. We must realize that there are many verses which confirm the other side of the truth. For example, once Christians are saved, they remain saved forever. This is one side of the truth. At the same time, Christians who sin after their salvation and do not repent will still be punished. Even though they will not pass through the second death, the Bible says that they will suffer the hurt of the second death. This is also the truth.

Some have asked why the Bible says, on the one hand, that whosoever will may take the water of life freely and whosoever believes in the Lord Jesus should not perish but have eternal life and, on the other hand, that God predestinated man to be saved? Someone has given a very good answer that the word “Whosoever” is written on the outside of the gate of heaven meaning “whosoever will may enter.” But once the gate has been entered, we can turn around and see that “You are predestinated” is written on the inside of the gate. This statement expresses the two sides of God’s truth. Our experience can confirm this. When I first believed in the Lord, all I did was believe. After believing in Him, I looked back and wondered why I was saved when there were so many others who were better than I who were not saved. I was ignorant and did not know why it happened. I could only say that my salvation was predestinated by God.

No matter who we are, as long as we believe, we will be saved. This is the word for unbelievers. For the believers the word is God’s selection and God’s predestination. It is a big mistake to speak a word to unbelievers which is meant for believers. The Lord told His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). We cannot say this to the unbelievers.

Once a student of theology went to a servant of God and asked, “The Bible says God predestinated man to salvation. But when I preach, sometimes I look into someone’s face and wonder, `What if God has not predestinated this one to be saved and yet I convince him to be saved?'” The servant of God replied, “Just keep on preaching. If you are able to persuade him to be saved, he must have been predestinated by God.”

We should realize that God tells believers that their salvation is predestinated in order to create a thankful heart in them. When I realize that, even though there are still many unbelievers, I am saved, I can only say that God has chosen me from among the millions. Hallelujah! I am saved not because of my own merit but because God has saved me. All I can do is thank Him!

Revelation 22:17 is spoken to unbelievers, and John 1:12-13 is spoken to believers. Our salvation is altogether God’s doing and not our own working. In this way the truth is balanced.

QUESTION

Does Luke 10:25-37 indicate that a person inherits eternal life because he loves the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his strength, with all his mind, and by loving his neighbor as himself? If so, is not inheriting eternal life dependent upon works?

ANSWER

The Bible tells us that eternal life depends upon our believing and not upon our works. The entire New Testament uses the word believe more than five hundred times. When we believe, we have eternal life; when we believe, we are saved; and when we believe, we are justified, etc. In Luke 10 a certain lawyer asked, “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” The Lord said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The lawyer replied, “You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole strength and with your whole mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Then the Lord said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you shall have life.” The law teaches two things: to love God and to love man. Since these are altogether works, is not inheriting eternal life dependent upon works? If this story ended at verse 28, it would be very difficult for us to explain how to inherit eternal life. But thank and praise the Lord that this story continues through verse 37.

The lawyer said, “And who is my neighbor?” By saying this, he meant that he knew God but did not know who his neighbor was. Then the Lord spoke about a certain man who went down to Jericho and fell among robbers. A certain priest came down that way and did not save him. A Levite passed by that way and did not save him either. But a certain good Samaritan saved him to the uttermost. In verse 36, the Lord asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, does it seem to you, has become a neighbor to him who fell into the hands of the robbers?” We must note the lawyer’s question in verse 29: “And who is my neighbor?” and the Lord’s question in verse 36: “Which of these three, does it seem to you, has become a neighbor to him who fell into the hands of the robbers?” By His question, the Lord meant, “You are the one who fell among the robbers, so now which one of these is your neighbor?” He said, “The one who showed mercy to him.” Then the Lord said, “Go, and you do likewise.” This shows us that the Lord did not ask the lawyer to be a good Samaritan; rather, He wanted the lawyer to know that his neighbor was a good Samaritan. In other words, it was the Samaritan who saved him. More explicitly, the good Samaritan was the Savior of the lawyer.

The one who fell among the robbers was a sinner. Neither the priest nor the Levite could be his savior. Only the good Samaritan was his savior. The sinner’s neighbor is the sinner’s Savior. Loving the neighbor is loving the Savior. Having eternal life depends upon a Savior; it does not depend upon ourselves trying to be a savior. Many mistakenly consider this parable to be a lesson in treating people well. The Lord never said that we have to be a savior to the one who fell among the robbers. Rather, He said that we are the ones who have fallen among the robbers. The good Samaritan who saved us is our neighbor, and we should love Him. We are those who fell among the robbers. The One whom we did not know came to save us. The lawyer asked who his neighbor was. The Lord answered him by saying that the lawyer had fallen among the robbers and that his neighbor was the One who saved him.

We love the Lord because we have eternal life; we do not love the Lord in order to obtain eternal life. First there is the relationship of a neighbor, then the loving affection. This portion of the Word shows us the following items: (1) man is fallen; (2) man cannot save himself; (3) the Savior has come; and (4) if we receive His salvation, we will surely be saved and love Him. The mistake of many is that they themselves want to be the savior and are ignorant of the gospel of grace. We need to know that the Lord wants us to love the good Samaritan who is the Lord Himself.

QUESTION

Romans 4 says that Abraham was justified by faith, and James 2 says that Abraham was justified by works. How do we explain these two kinds of justification? How are they related to one another?

ANSWER

The Scripture speaks of two kinds of justification: one is justification by faith, and the other is justification by works. We can prove this by the following verses:

Acts 13:39 says, “And from all the things from which you were not able to be justified by the law of Moses, in this One everyone who believes is justified.” Romans 3:28 says, “For we account that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” These verses by Paul clearly show us that justification is by faith.

First Corinthians 4:4 says, “For I am conscious of nothing against myself; but I am not justified in this, but He who examines me is the Lord.” The primary difference between this verse and the two previous verses is that it refers to being rewarded before the judgment seat of Christ. The meaning of justification in this verse is a reward for good works. This verse is also by Paul. He speaks of justification by faith, on one hand, and justification by works, on the other hand.

The Bible speaks of the matter of reward when referring to justification by works and also mentions justification by works in the midst of justification by faith. Let us read about this.

We know that the books of Romans and Galatians speak of justification by faith, whereas the book of James speaks of justification by works. Some may think that Paul’s words about justification by faith alone were not fully adequate; therefore, James had to fill up the lack by speaking about justification by works. But this concept is not accurate, because the books of Romans and Galatians had not been written when James wrote his Epistle.

In Romans Paul tells us that justification is by faith. He feared that some might not know what God had done, what Christ had accomplished, and how effective the precious blood was. They might have thought that just believing was insufficient and that there was an additional need for man’s works in order to be saved. Therefore, Paul used the case of Abraham to show that justification is by faith. James, however, also used the case of Abraham in speaking about justification by works. Consequently, we can see that there is a close relationship between justification by faith and justification by works. Paul and James actually spoke about the same thing; their words are not contradictory. Let us see their relationship to each other and how these two portions of Scripture are connected.

Let us first come to Romans 4.

Verses 2 and 3 say, “For if Abraham was justified out of works, he has something to boast in, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? `And Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness.'” Verses 9 and 10 say, “Is this blessing then upon the circumcision only, or also upon the uncircumcision? For we say, Faith was accounted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was in circumcision or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.” This portion of the Word tells us that even before Abraham was circumcised, he was justified by faith. The Jews regarded circumcision as the most important act. In the eyes of the Jews, uncircumcised Gentiles were as swine and dogs. Yet before Abraham was circumcised, he was justified by faith.

Verse 11 says, “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while in uncircumcision, that he might be the father of all those in uncircumcision who believe, that righteousness might be accounted to them also.” Circumcision is like a seal stamped by God, which declares that one is justified by faith and that nothing will change this fact. The reason God required Abraham to be circumcised was not so that He could justify Abraham by this act; a seal was stamped on him in order to declare that nothing would change the matter of his justification by faith. Even if Abraham had not offered up Isaac later, he still would have been justified by faith. Therefore, we can be assured that once we are justified by faith, we are securely justified.

Verse 12 says, “And the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had in uncircumcision.” This shows that being circumcised required faith, because Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised.

Romans proves that a sinner cannot be justified by the works of law. Galatians proves that a believer cannot be sanctified by the works of law. We are both justified by faith and sanctified by faith. If we have begun by the Spirit, how can we be perfected by the flesh? In any case, the seal has been stamped, and those who are of faith are blessed together with believing Abraham.

QUESTION

What does the Bible teach concerning reconciliation? Should man be reconciled to God or God be reconciled to man?

ANSWER

Let us consider 2 Corinthians 5:18-20: “But all things are out from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself, not accounting their offenses to them, and has put in us the word of reconciliation. On behalf of Christ then we are ambassadors, as God entreats you through us; we beseech you on behalf of Christ, Be reconciled to God.” These verses show us one thing. There is a common misconception that if a person wants salvation, he must desperately plead until God changes His mind. But the Bible does not say this. God is not a God of hatred. There is no problem on His side. Man tends to think that God’s heart is very hard. Therefore, he feels compelled to constantly plead for pity and forgiveness, fearing that God will change His mind toward him. This concept comes from a lack of understanding the Bible.

“But all things are out from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ.” God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ. Consequently, if a man thinks that God initially hated him and that he must plead, confess, repeatedly cry, and offer much penance before God can forgive him, he is wrong. In fact, God is reconciling man to Himself through Christ. When Christ was on earth He represented God. He did everything for man with the purpose of expressing God. Christ’s love toward man on earth expressed God’s love in heaven. Ultimately, God prepared a Savior for us. He died on the cross and was punished for us. Therefore, God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ. God is at peace with us. He has no problem with us. How He deals with us is altogether contrary to our thought.

“And has given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” The ministry of the apostles is to persuade man to be reconciled to God. Man thinks that he must entreat God for pity and love. He is totally ignorant that God loves man to the uttermost. God longs for man to be reconciled to Himself. Therefore, the apostles preached in order to beseech men to be reconciled to God; they never pleaded for God to be reconciled to man.

How did God reconcile us to Himself? By “not accounting their offenses to them.” God reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ by not accounting our offenses to us.

“On behalf of Christ then we are ambassadors, as God entreats you through us; we beseech you on behalf of Christ, Be reconciled to God.” This verse says that the apostles beseeched on behalf of Christ that we would be reconciled to God. They did not ask God to be reconciled to us. Man thinks that God is not willing to be reconciled to him. Actually, God commissioned us to beseech men to be reconciled to Himself. The command we receive from God is to beseech men on His behalf that they be reconciled to God. We do not need to plead with God; we need to beseech men to receive what God has bestowed on them. Man does not need to pitifully pray to God; he only needs to believe and accept what Christ has accomplished.

Does not God hate sin? God no doubt hates sin. But if any man receives the Lord Jesus Christ, God will forgive him. Therefore, we have to be careful to not be misled to think that there is hate in God’s heart toward man.

QUESTION

What are the requirements for salvation, that is, for receiving eternal life?

ANSWER

According to the Bible, there is only one requirement for being saved: to believe. There is no need to add anything else to believing. Yet many people think that believing is not enough and that we must add something to it in order to be saved. This is because they do not understand what we believe, what faith is, what the result of a living faith is, and what the expression of a living faith is. As long as a person truly believes, he is saved, and no other requirements need to be added. Let us consider seven conditions which are not required for salvation.

1. Believing and Hoping

Some people think that in order to be saved we must believe and then implore God earnestly, hoping that God will pity us and have mercy on us so that we might go to heaven. But the Bible does not say that we should hope for God’s graciousness towards us; rather, it says that we must believe that God has already granted us grace. Romans 3:21 and 22 say, “But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, witness being borne to it by the Law and the Prophets; even the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ to all those who believe, for there is no distinction.” Whoever thinks that he must believe and hope does not have a reliable faith and will eventually be one who does not have genuine faith. Faith is to believe what is already accomplished. These people do not know what faith is, nor do they know God’s heart. They consider that God’s forgiveness is given to people reluctantly and that they must plead with God to such an extent that He has pity on them. Actually, God has already forgiven us. Since the Lord Jesus has shed His precious blood, all of our sins are forgiven. Therefore, the work is accomplished. If we believe it, we are forgiven. By faith, the redemption which the Lord has accomplished is ours. Once we believe that Jesus Christ died for us, the grace of God is manifested in us.

2. Believing and Confessing

Some say that if a man believes but does not confess Christ, he cannot be saved. Indeed, the one who believes must confess Christ. However, salvation is not the result of confession. Confession is not a condition for being saved, and one is not saved by confessing.

Matthew 10:32 and 33 say, “Every one therefore who will confess in Me before men, I also will confess in him before My Father who is in the heavens; but whoever will deny Me before men, I also will deny him before My Father who is in the heavens.” This passage of Scripture does not refer to receiving eternal life; rather, it refers to a man’s future position in the kingdom of the heavens and to the salvation of the believer’s soul. If a person is willing to deny himself and confess the Lord on earth, the Lord will confess him before the Father in the future. It does not refer to a person’s eternal salvation.

Mark 8:38 says, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also will be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” This also refers to the time of the kingdom. Mark 8:35 says, “For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it; but whoever will lose his soul-life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it.” What does losing one’s soul on the earth mean? It means to be willing while on earth to forfeit all enjoyment of the soul for the Lord’s sake. Whoever is afraid of losing face and being put to shame today will certainly lose face and be ashamed in the future. Whoever is not afraid of losing face and being put to shame for the Lord today will certainly be glorified in the future. Those who are not willing to suffer with the Lord today will surely miss the glory in the kingdom. When the Lord Jesus Christ establishes the kingdom on the earth, many will miss the glory.

Matthew 10:32 and 33 and Mark 8:35 and 38 all speak about the kingdom and not about obtaining eternal life. Entrance into the kingdom is related to a believer’s conduct on earth today. If a believer does not confess the Lord when he should before man, even though he already has eternal life, he will have no portion in the kingdom.

Romans 10:10 says, “For with the heart there is believing unto righteousness, and with the mouth there is confession unto salvation.” This verse seems to say that one can be saved by making confession with the mouth. However, in order to understand this verse we must consider the entire context. The subject of Romans 10 is the righteousness which is by faith. Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to everyone who believes (v. 4). Faith is the requirement for obtaining righteousness, but what is this faith? The previous verses say that the word is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart, and that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. This faith includes two aspects: one is with the mouth, and the other is with the heart. These two matters are the actions of faith; they are two aspects of one thing. They are just like justification and salvation which are two aspects of one thing. Confessing with the mouth is an expression of faith, and faith includes confession. This is why in the subsequent concluding word only faith is mentioned and not confession. Verse 11 says, “Everyone who believes on Him shall not be put to shame.” This verse does not say that whosoever believes and confesses shall not be put to shame. Confession is included in believing, so there is no need to mention it. Verse 14 says, “How then shall they call upon Him into whom they have not believed?” Verses 16 and 17 say, “`Who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes out of hearing.” These verses do not mention confession again. Confession is not an independent matter; rather, it is a spontaneous expression of believing. Then how is the confession spoken of here expressed? Confession does not mean standing up to give a testimony. Instead, it is like a child acknowledging his mother by calling her “Mom.” When a person is saved by believing with his heart, he confesses with the mouth and spontaneously calls, “Abba, Father.” Therefore, confession is not a requirement in addition to believing. A person needs only to believe in order to be saved.

QUESTION

What sins are unpardonable? Can someone who commits such a sin be saved? What is the real meaning of this sin?

ANSWER

The unpardonable sin is the sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. The devil is never idle; wherever the Holy Spirit is working, the devil is also working. Sometimes he stretches the truth of the Bible just a little in order to torment people. When the Holy Spirit is convicting a person of his sins, the devil will tell him, “You are a sinner, a great sinner, and even a unique sinner; you have committed the sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Therefore, you can never be forgiven.” Many people are afraid that they have committed the sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Let us first explain the meaning of this sin and then come to the conclusion that it is not possible for anyone to commit this sin today. We will first read Mark 3:28-30.

Verse 28 says, “Truly I say to you that all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they blaspheme.” This sounds like music! This is a most pleasant word! All the sins of the world and all the words of blasphemy may be forgiven. This is a great proclamation of the gospel! All the sins—including great sins, small sins, refined sins, gross sins, the sins which are humanly considered as pardonable, as well as those sins which are considered unpardonable, yesterday’s sins, today’s sins, even tomorrow’s sins—are included. Hallelujah! All sins are forgiven! Blasphemous words against God can be forgiven; even slander against the Lord can be forgiven. All the sins, that is, all our actions of conduct and all the blasphemous words spoken against God when we were unbelievers can all be forgiven. There is not one sin, not even a word of blasphemy, which cannot be forgiven. This is what the Lord says in this verse.

You should not think that you have committed the unpardonable sin. Saying something that offends God is not a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Speaking something against Christ is not a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The only unpardonable sin is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, not against Christ. Quenching the Holy Spirit is not the same as blaspheming against the Holy Spirit; neither can rejecting the Holy Spirit nor resisting the Holy Spirit be considered a blasphemy against Him.

Verse 29 says, “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has no forgiveness forever, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” It is clear that this is a unique and special sin.

What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? It is to speak with one’s mouth things which blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. How can we know that this sin is a sin that involves words of the mouth? Please read verse 30: “He said this because they said, He has an unclean spirit.” This sin is not as easy to commit as many think today. In order to commit such a sin, a person must have clearly seen the Lord casting out demons and performing miracles and works of wonders by the Spirit of God when He was on earth. In spite of this knowledge, he would still have to insist on saying that the Lord Jesus was demon-possessed.

For a person to commit this sin, he must (1) see the Lord Jesus with his own eyes; (2) personally witness the Lord performing wonders and miracles among the people; (3) know clearly that this was the work of the Holy Spirit; and yet (4) still insist on saying that this is the work of demons. How can we commit the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit if we have not seen the Lord with our own eyes, have not personally seen Him performing wonders and miracles among us, and have not clearly known that those works were done by the Holy Spirit? We have neither the opportunity nor the possibility of committing this sin. If someone or even the devil says to us that we have committed the sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit and can never be forgiven, we can immediately answer that there is no such thing because we have not personally seen the Lord, His wonders, or His miracles. Moreover, we have not said that wonders and miracles were done by the devil while assuredly knowing that they were done by the Holy Spirit.

There was a newly saved brother who once asked an elderly brother, “Have I ever committed the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?” The elderly brother answered it very well. He said, “If you can grieve for your sins, you have not committed the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” This is really true. But we should add one more word: even if a person does not feel that he has sinned, he still cannot be described as having committed the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Let us see how the Gospel of Matthew records this matter. “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, neither in this age nor in the one to come” (12:32). These are words spoken by the Lord to the Jews who had committed the sin recorded in this chapter. They clearly saw that the Lord cast out demons by the Holy Spirit. However, they insisted on saying that He had cast out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons. How does the Bible describe these people? “And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, `In hearing you shall hear and by no means understand, and seeing you shall see and by no means perceive. For the heart of this people has become fat, and with their ears they have heard heavily, and their eyes they have closed, lest they perceive with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart, and they turn around, and I will heal them'” (13:14-15). This shows us that any person who committed the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit by no means sensed or wanted to be saved, because his heart had become fat, his ears heard heavily, and his eyes were closed.

There are two other related passages in the Bible which are quite meaningful. One is found in Luke 8:12: “And those beside the way are those who heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they would not believe and be saved.” The devil knows that man will be saved when he believes; therefore, he is fearful lest any man believes and is saved. The other passage is found in Matthew 13:11-15: “And He answered and said to them, Because to you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, but to them it has not been given….For this reason I speak to them in parables…lest they perceive with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart, and they turn around, and I will heal them.” Concerning the people who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, God was also fearful that they might be saved. Therefore, the Lord spoke in parables lest they should repent and be healed. Hallelujah! To believe and be saved is so marvelous!

Whoever blasphemed against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, because he “is guilty of an everlasting sin.” According to the opinion of some Bible scholars, this can also be translated as “He will sin forever.” He will not receive forgiveness in this age nor in the age to come because he will sin forever. But how can he sin in hell? What torments him most in hell will be worms and fire. In hell, there is suffering because of a lack of water to the point that there is not enough water to even wet the tip of the finger. There is also the burning of the fire of lusts. Hell is a place where sin and lusts are never satisfied. It is a most tormenting place. But we can thank and praise God. As long as we are willing to believe, there is not one sin which can prevent us from being saved, because the Lord said, “All sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they blaspheme” (Mark 3:28). Therefore, we can be at peace.

Although we are not able to commit the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, we should be careful when we touch the work of the Holy Spirit. Do not say in a light way that the work of this person is of the Holy Spirit or the work of that person is of the evil spirits.

QUESTION

What does it mean to fall from grace (Gal. 5:4)? Can the ones who have fallen from grace be saved?

ANSWER

There are several books in the New Testament which closely resemble one another, such as Ephesians and Colossians, and Galatians and Romans. The reason for this resemblance is that one book presents a matter from one point of view, while the other book proves the matter from another point of view. Ephesians says that the church is the Body of Christ; Colossians then turns around and says that Christ is the Head of the church. Romans says that justification is by God’s grace, based on God’s righteousness, and through man’s faith. Galatians, from the negative side, says that man cannot be saved by the law or justified by works. Romans tells us what is the truth, and Galatians tells us what is not the truth. By knowing what is not the truth, the knowledge of the truth becomes even clearer.

The believers in Galatia had a good beginning because they were saved by faith. However, a danger developed among them; some said that even though the beginning of man’s salvation is by faith in Christ, by the moving of the Holy Spirit, and by the grace of God, once he is saved, he can only please God by keeping His law and trying his best to do good. If you ask someone how he was saved, he will say through faith. But if you ask someone how he can please God, he will say it is by doing good. This was the condition of the believers in Galatia. They thought that salvation was by faith but that maintaining salvation depended on keeping the law. They thought that the first thing they had to do was be circumcised and the second thing they had to do was keep the ordinances of the Old Testament. Therefore, Paul told them, “You have been brought to nought, separated from Christ, you who are being justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).

What does “fallen from grace” mean? From Galatians 5:1 we know that they had entered into grace: “Stand fast therefore, and do not be entangled with a yoke of slavery again.” This indicates that Christ had set them free. They were already free. Now they should stand fast in this freedom and not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. As we read further, we understand what it means to fall from grace. Suppose one is standing in a position of freedom. If he moves away from his position of freedom and takes a yoke to bear, this is to fall from grace. This, basically, has nothing to do with whether or not one can be saved. On the contrary, only those who have already been saved have the possibility of falling from grace.

Every saved Christian obtains a new position on the day he is saved. He also obtains a freedom which is his as a child of God. Freedom does not mean indulgence; it is having a free spirit before God. We are not required to do hard labor or keep the days [in the Law], much less to be circumcised.

Before God, what is the difference between a Christian who is free and a Christian who is not free? When a Christian who is free comes to the presence of God, he only remembers that he is acceptable to God because of the Lord Jesus. He forgets himself and does not look at himself, but only remembers that his coming to God’s presence is by the blood of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, he has boldness to enter into the Holy of Holies. However, a Christian who is not free thinks he must be very careful from morning until evening. If he treats people well, reads his Bible with joy, and prays long prayers during the day, he is bolder when he comes to a meeting. Even his “amen” is uttered in a louder voice. If he does not do quite as well on a particular day, he thinks that God is displeased with him. This kind of Christian always turns his eyes inward to look at himself. He forgets to look at what Christ has already accomplished. He thinks that God is pleased with him if he does well and that God is displeased with him if he does not do well. Consequently, from morning until evening he makes an iron yoke for himself, a yoke composed of the strictest laws to keep.

We should realize that the freedom which Paul speaks of does not refer to one’s position or salvation but to a Christian’s daily enjoyment of the freedom in grace which God has given him. Freedom is not licentiousness, nor is it to do anything one wishes. Freedom refers to the kind of freedom we have before God, which was given to us through Jesus Christ. If we come before God forgetting the blood and looking only at ourselves, we are committing the greatest sin, because we have lightly esteemed the blood which God values highly. Hebrews 10:29 tells us that it is a great sin to count the blood of the covenant by which man was sanctified a common thing. The blood is so valuable to God that the Bible calls it “the precious blood.” Anyone who does not look at the precious blood before God will lose the enjoyment of grace in this life.

“You have been brought to nought, separated from Christ” (Gal. 5:4). This means that such a one has lost the blessings of this life. If a person is saved, he will certainly have the blessings of the coming life. But if he does not know how to live daily by what Christ has accomplished, he is not able to enjoy the blessings which Christ can give to him day by day. A Christian who is not free makes a yoke for himself to bear; he lives as a slave, not as a son.

The Bible places great emphasis on the work of Christ. It tells us that God accepts us because of the work of Christ, not because of our own works. Each time we come before God it is based on what Christ is before God, not on what we are before Him. God esteems Christ highly, not us. Even if we could do better than Peter, John, and Paul, we still could come before God only because of Christ. It is Christ who brings us before God, not our own good works.

We come before God by what Christ has accomplished. By what then should we come before men? Should we say that because our coming to the presence of God depends on what Christ has accomplished, it does not matter if we have bad conduct before men? Our light should shine before men. If our light shines before men, people will give glory to our heavenly Father because of our good works. If our conduct is bad, people will not acknowledge us as Christians.

The position which Christ has given us before God is very secure. Each day, each time, we come to the presence of God, we should come with a conscience void of offense. Some Christians always feel guilty when they come to the presence of God. But Hebrews 10:2 says, “Having once been purified, would have no longer had the consciousness of sins.” With our conscience once purified by the blood, we are forever free before God.

QUESTION

How many kinds of forgiveness from God are there according to the Bible? How do we explain these different kinds of forgiveness?

ANSWER

We have to remember one thing: the consequences of sin determine the kind of forgiveness involved. There are at least five consequences of sin:

(1) Eternal perdition.

(2) Separation from the people of God. In the Old Testament, if an Israelite committed sin, he was cut off from the people of Israel. In the New Testament we also have these words: “Remove the evil man from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:13).

(3) Fellowship with God is hindered.

(4) If sin is not put away, God will chasten and discipline.

(5) If sin is not forsaken, the Lord may deal with it when He comes to reign in the millennium, and the position of this person in the kingdom may be affected by such sin.

The fourth consequence is chastisement in this age; whereas the fifth consequence is chastisement in the coming age. The Bible makes statements like, “Will not be forgiven him, neither in this age nor in the one to come” (Matt. 12:32). “Age” in this verse refers not to the world but to the ages. This gives us an indication that while certain sins are forgiven in this age, other sins will be forgiven in the coming age.

Since sins have five possible consequences, there must also be five kinds of forgiveness. If there were only three kinds of forgiveness, what would happen to the other two consequences of sin? If there were only four kinds of forgiveness, what would happen to the other remaining consequence of sin? Many wrongly teach that there is only one kind of judgment. The result of such a teaching is much confusion. If we are not clear regarding these five kinds of forgiveness, we will not know what to do many times.

What are the five kinds of forgiveness? First, we will mention them briefly; afterwards, we will talk about them one by one.

(1) God’s eternal forgiveness. (Relating to the problem of eternal salvation.)

(2) The forgiveness through God’s people. (Relating to the problem of the fellowship between God’s children. This kind of forgiveness can be regarded as God’s forgiveness through a person or through the forgiveness of the church.)

(3) The forgiveness to restore fellowship. (Relating to the problem of fellowshipping with God.)

(4) The forgiveness of God’s discipline. (Relating to the way God disciplines His children.)

(5) The forgiveness in the kingdom. (Relating to the forgiveness of the millennium.)

Now we will explain these five kinds of forgiveness separately.

1. God’s Eternal Forgiveness

Eternal forgiveness is related to man’s eternal salvation. Even though this forgiveness is eternal, it is nevertheless given to the sinners in this age. What is the basis for this forgiveness? Hebrews 9:22 says, “And without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Matthew 26:28 says, “For this is My blood of the covenant, which is being poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This verse tells us that eternal forgiveness is based on the blood of the Lord Jesus. No matter how big and gross a sin is, it can be forgiven by the blood of the Lord Jesus. But this forgiveness is not without a price, and God cannot forgive freely because “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” God’s forgiveness of our sins does not mean that God is lenient toward them or will let them go. God still condemns sin as sin. God is only able to forgive us because our sins were judged in Christ. The Lord Jesus has died, shedding His precious blood and paying the price. God’s way of forgiveness is most righteous. We have a Savior who has already died for us. Therefore, God has no choice but to forgive us.

The reason that our sins can be forgiven is because the Lamb of God has taken away our sins, and the blood of His Son Jesus has cleansed us of all our sins. Our forgiveness is based on the blood of the Lord Jesus, and we obtain this forgiveness through faith (Acts 10:43; 13:39). Do not think that we were forgiven because we repented for our past sins and resolved not to commit any sins in the future. The Word of God says that our sins are forgiven because of the blood of the Lord Jesus. If we believe in the blood of the Lord Jesus, we will see that our sins have been laid upon Him and that we are forgiven.

Is the forgiveness of our sins something for the present or the future? Let us read 1 John 2:12: “I write to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you because of His name.” Pay attention to the three words “have been forgiven.” They are not “will be forgiven,” but “have been forgiven”; not “expected to be forgiven” or “waiting to be forgiven,” but “have been forgiven.” Hallelujah! As soon as we believe in the Lord Jesus, our sins are already forgiven. The Word of God says, “Little children…your sins have been forgiven you because of His name.” When God says we are forgiven, we are forgiven. God does not lie.

2. The Forgiveness through God’s People

John 20:23 says, “Whosever sins you forgive, they are forgiven them; and whosever sins you retain, they are retained.” Is not the mention of forgiveness in this verse strange? Does this mean that the apostles have the authority to forgive sins on earth? If we do not understand the meaning of this verse, we will not be able to refute the pope’s authority. The authority of our forgiveness as related to salvation is in God’s hand. If you go to Peter and he does not forgive you, does this mean that you are not saved? No, salvation and the forgiveness of sins depend absolutely on receiving the precious blood of the Lord Jesus. Then what does forgiveness in this verse mean? It refers to a declaration which the church makes under the direction of the Holy Spirit and is based on the church’s understanding of a person’s forgiveness before God. We must notice that it says, “Whosever sins you forgive,” not “Whom you forgive.” “Whosever” is plural not singular; it is corporate not private; it is not by an individual but by the church. “Whosever sins you forgive” means that the church declares that the sins of a certain man have been forgiven and he is saved. Someone may come to the church declaring, “I have heard the gospel and believed. Please receive me that I may be baptized and break bread the same way as the other disciples.” In order to receive him, the brothers have to know whether his sins have been forgiven. If the brothers know that his sins have been forgiven before God and that he is a child of God, they can declare that he has been forgiven and saved, and receive him. If the brothers are not clear from within, they cannot make such a testimony for such a one; therefore, they cannot receive him. The forgiveness of the church is based on the forgiveness of God. The church merely declares what God has already done. Through the church, God announces the condition of a man before Him.

We must pay attention to verse 22 since verse 23 follows it. Only after verse 22 can we have verse 23. Verse 22 says, “And when He had said this, He breathed into them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.” Based upon the power and instruction of the Holy Spirit, the church determines whether one’s sins have been forgiven. It is not based on individual feeling. If a person is saved, and the church is not sure and asks him to wait for a little, this will not affect his forgiveness before God. For example, after Paul was saved and came to Jerusalem, he desired to join himself to the disciples. But they were all afraid of him and did not believe that he had believed in the Lord and become a disciple. Only after Barnabas testified for him was Paul able to be with the disciples coming in and going out in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-28). Therefore, the church cannot forgive or retain one’s sins directly; it only declares that one’s sins are forgiven or not forgiven before God, deciding if he may have fellowship and communion among the disciples.

3. The Forgiveness to Restore Fellowship

First John 2:1 and 2 say, “My little children, these things I write to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for those of the whole world.” First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We must be clear about the special emphasis of the Gospel of John and 1 John. The Gospel of John shows the gospel among men; whereas 1 John shows the gospel in the heart of God. The Gospel of John has two lines: grace and truth. When grace is mentioned, truth is also mentioned. First John also has two lines: God is love, and God is light. On the one hand, it speaks of love, and on the other hand, it speaks of light. What is the relationship between grace and truth, and love and light? Love is in God’s heart. When it is expressed among men, it is grace. Light is in God’s heart. When it is expressed among men, it is truth. The Gospel of John brings God to man, while 1 John brings man to God. The Gospel of John speaks of the matters of life, salvation, eternal life, and so forth; whereas 1 John speaks of fellowship, drawing near to God, and going to Him. The Gospel of John deals with the matter of salvation; whereas 1 John deals with the matter of fellowship with God. The beginning of 1 John speaks of the matter of fellowship, and chapters one and two speak on the forgiveness in this fellowship.

There are two kinds of relationships between God and us. One is a kindred relationship in that we are saved and are children of God. This relationship can never be broken. Let me ask: is a son no longer a son of his father because of his misbehavior? No. If a son does not want to be his father’s son, can he stop being his father’s son? No. If a father denies his son, is the son no longer a child of his? No. If you are a certain man’s son, can someone else or even Satan annul this fact? No. We can respectfully say that even God cannot deny this fact. Therefore, after a person is regenerated and becomes a child of God, no one is able to overthrow this relationship. This relationship can never be severed. Nevertheless, there is another type of relationship which is subject to interruption. This is the relationship of fellowship. For example, although you are your father’s son, if you do something wrong one day, you will be afraid to see your father for fear of his rebuke. The more serious the mistake, the more you will be afraid to see him. Though your family relationship can never be cut off, your communication with your father may be broken. Our relationship with God is the same. After we are saved, there is still the possibility that we will commit sins. Whenever we sin, our fellowship with God is immediately cut off. In order for the fellowship with God to be restored, our sins must be forgiven. If we commit sins we must, according to 1 John 1:9, “confess our sins.” We must say, “O God, I was wrong in this matter; please forgive me.” After confessing this way, our fellowship with God can be restored.

By what means are we cleansed from our sins? We are cleansed by the blood. Many Christians try to use time to wash their sins away, instead of applying the blood. How do they do this? Some may commit a sin and stay in their bad feelings for several days, thinking that God could not forgive them so quickly. After five or ten days, when their heart is at peace, they think that the sin is no more. They try to wash their sins away by using five or ten days instead of applying the blood. We must remember that forgiveness of sins comes by the blood, not by forgetting. We are not forgiven because we have forgotten our sins. Rather, the blood of His Son Jesus washes away all our sins. God can only forgive our sins under the blood.

Someone once asked a child what a person should do if he has sinned. The child answered, “He should do two things. First, he should feel sorrowful for several days, and second, he should be forgiven.” The theology of this child is the theology of many people. It is also the thought of many older people. It seems that only if we suffer enough will we be forgiven; otherwise, we cannot be forgiven. Brothers and sisters, even if one suffers many days, he still cannot earn one percent of forgiveness. While we should have a sorrowful and penitent heart for our sins, our forgiveness does not depend upon our sorrow. Rather, it depends upon the blood of Jesus who saved us. If we confess our sins, God will forgive us through the blood of the Lord, and the fellowship between God and us will be restored.

4. The Forgiveness in God’s Discipline

This concerns God’s way of dealing with His children. What is God’s administration? God’s administration is God’s method or way by which He deals with man. Let us read several portions of the Scripture.

Second Samuel 22:26 and 27 say, “With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful,/and with the upright man thou wilt show thyself upright./With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure;/and with the froward thou wilt show thyself unsavory.” This shows the way of God’s administration. God deals with us according to the way we are. Galatians 6:7 and 8 say, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For he who sows unto his own flesh will reap corruption of the flesh, but he who sows unto the Spirit will of the Spirit reap eternal life.” This also shows us God’s principle in dealing with man. He who sows unto his own flesh will reap corruption of the flesh; but he who sows unto the Spirit will of the Spirit reap eternal life. Committing sin not only causes man to have a sinful record before God but also brings suffering as a consequence. The record of sins can be remitted by God, but suffering its consequence cannot be avoided. For example, a child may disobey his mother and steal candy all the time. If he is willing to repent, the sin of stealing can be forgiven, but his teeth may be ruined. Many times, even though the sins of God’s children are forgiven, the consequences of those sins still remain. We gain eternal forgiveness as soon as we believe; we gain forgiveness for the restoration of fellowship as soon as we repent. But the consequence of God’s discipline may be very hard.

For example, Samson was a judge, but he later fell and was ill-treated by the Philistines. Even though he cried to Jehovah in the end, saying, “O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judg. 16:28), and even though he killed more at his death than when he was alive, his eyes were never restored. His hair grew back again, and the fellowship between him and God was restored, but his ministry as a judge was not recovered.

Second Samuel 11 and 12 record the two most evil sins of David: adultery and murder. After David committed these sins, God sent the prophet Nathan to David to rebuke him. God judged these sins most severely. He said, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife…Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun” (12:10-12). This was the consequence of God’s discipline for David. Even though he confessed his sin and Nathan told him, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin,” David still had to bear the sufferings of God’s discipline. David confessed his sins before God and was forgiven; his fellowship with God was restored. Discipline, however, still followed the forgiveness. He killed only one person, Uriah, but four of his sons died (the first being the one born to Bathsheba, and also Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah). This is what God did with respect to righteousness. If we realize this, we will not dare to sin. God had to vindicate Himself by making it clear that He was displeased with David’s conduct. If God had not disciplined David, the whole world would have said that Jehovah was pleased with David in committing these sins. God could forgive David, but He had to manifest His hatred for David’s sin. We need to pay attention to the fact that if we sin against a brother, a sister, or someone, we must take care of the matter.

James 5:14 and 15 say, “Is anyone among you ill? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him.” The forgiveness spoken of in these verses is the forgiveness in God’s discipline. If it were eternal forgiveness, it could not be received through another’s prayer of faith. Nor is it forgiveness to restore fellowship, because the forgiveness of fellowship can be obtained as soon as one confesses his sins. The forgiveness of discipline requires that one call for the elders of the church to pray for him. If the Lord gives the elders faith to pray for such a one, he will be healed.

Isaiah 53:5 says, “But He was pierced because of our transgressions; / He was crushed because of our iniquities; / The chastening for our peace was upon Him, / And by His stripes we have been healed.” This verse touches four aspects. The first aspect concerns conduct; the second, one’s condition before God; the third, the body; and the fourth is expressed in the sentence: “The chastening for our peace was upon Him.” Concerning God’s discipline, His chastening will continue even after one has repented. The Lord, however, has already been chastened for us; chastening is a part of the work of the Lord’s crucifixion. Therefore, we may ask God to acquit us of our chastening since the Lord was already chastened on our behalf.

James 4:7 says, “Be subject therefore to God; but withstand the devil, and he will flee from you.” First Peter 5:6 through 10 says, “Therefore be humbled under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your anxiety on Him because it matters to Him concerning you. Be sober; watch. Your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking someone to devour. Him withstand, being firm in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are being accomplished among your brotherhood in the world. But the God of all grace, He who has called you into His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself perfect, establish, strengthen, and ground you.” Whenever we are being disciplined, we need to submit under the mighty hand of God and tell Him, “I will not resist what You are giving to me. Your treatment is what I deserve.” We must, however, resist the devil. The minute we become careless, the devil will come and give us additional sufferings. While God scourges us, the devil will try to scourge us also. Therefore, we must resist the devil. Only when we submit ourselves under God’s chastening can we resist the devil. On the one hand, we need to submit to God. On the other hand, we need to exercise our will daily to resist the devil, proclaiming that we refuse to be sick or weak.

5. The Forgiveness of the Kingdom

Concerning the forgiveness of the kingdom, Matthew 18:21 through 35 says, “Then Peter came and said to Him, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy times seven. For this reason the kingdom of the heavens has become like a king who desired to settle accounts with his slaves. And when he began to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, the master commanded him to be sold, as well as his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. Then the slave fell down and worshipped him, saying, Be patient with me and I will repay you all. And the master of that slave was moved with compassion and released him and forgave him the loan. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii, and he took hold of him and began to choke him, saying, Repay me what you owe. Then his fellow slave fell down and begged him, saying, Be patient with me and I will repay you. But he would not; instead, he went away and threw him into prison until he would repay what was owed. Then his fellow slaves, seeing what had taken place, were greatly grieved and came and explained fully to their master all that had taken place. Then his master called him to him and said to him, Evil slave, all that debt I forgave you, because you begged me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave even as I had mercy on you? And his master became angry and delivered him to the torturers until he would repay all that was owed. So also will My heavenly Father do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your hearts.”

If we cannot differentiate between the various kinds of forgiveness in reading the Scripture, we will encounter difficulties. In this portion of the Scripture, if we do not distinguish what kind of forgiveness is spoken of here, we may think that our heavenly Father can nullify eternal forgiveness and that we can no longer be saved. We have to realize that this passage is not speaking of the previous four kinds of forgiveness; rather, it is speaking of the forgiveness of the kingdom. We shall receive this kind of forgiveness when the King settles His accounts with His slaves (v. 23). Concerning the church, God speaks of grace; but concerning the kingdom, it is a matter of responsibility. As regards the church, it is a matter of what the Lord has done and how He deals with man; but, as regards the kingdom, it is a matter of how we are trained before God. Concerning the kingdom, the judgment in the future depends upon the kind of living we have today. These verses speak of our responsibility. This is related to the kingdom of the heavens and reigning in the millennium, not to eternal salvation.

There are several parables concerning the kingdom in the four Gospels. Matthew 18:21 through 35 is one of them. The kingdom of the heavens is likened to a king who settles accounts with his slaves. One owed his master ten thousand talents and had no means to repay. He begged his master to have patience with him so that he could repay later. The master was moved with compassion and forgave him the loan. The same slave then went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii. Rather than forgive him, he cast him into prison until he would pay the debt. Afterward, other slaves told their master what had been done, and his master said to him, “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave even as I had mercy on you?” After the Lord Jesus finished telling this parable, He explained its meaning. He said, “So also will My heavenly Father do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your hearts.” This refers to the forgiveness of the kingdom. This forgiveness is not obtained by every Christian, but only by those who forgive others. The first kind of forgiveness is received through believing in the Lord Jesus. The second kind of forgiveness is received through the declaration of the church. The third kind of forgiveness is received by confessing our sins to God. The fourth kind of forgiveness is received when God sees that the time of chastening is fulfilled, and He takes away the rod of discipline. The fifth kind of forgiveness can only be obtained as we pardon and forgive others from our hearts.

We know that the daily life and work of Christians on earth will be judged in the future. First the Lord will receive those who have overcome and are prepared into the air. After all the Christians are raptured, each one will be judged before the judgment seat of Christ. This judgment is not concerning the matter of salvation; it is a judgment to determine whether or not a Christian is worthy to participate in the kingdom. For those who are worthy, this will be the time to establish their position in the kingdom. There are two dangers one can face at the judgment seat: (1) being found unworthy to even enter the kingdom, and (2) even though being found worthy to enter the kingdom, being given a very low position.

How will God judge? The kingdom is God’s reward to us. Reward is given according to our behavior. Although we cannot be saved through good behavior, we do need good behavior in order to be rewarded. Our salvation is due to faith, but our reward is due to good works.

A certain saint once said, “I pray that God will cleanse with the Lord’s blood even the tears that I shed in sorrow for my sin! I still need to ask God to cleanse my repentance for my sin with the Lord’s blood!” In the future, when we stand before the judgment seat, the flaming eyes of the Lord will examine our living and work from the day we were saved until that day. At that time, probably not many things will be deemed flawless in the eyes of the Lord. The works which many consider as superior may be judged as impure, improperly motivated, and quite mixed in the eyes of the Lord. Many “good” works may not appear so good in the eyes of the Lord.

If judgment is to begin from the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17), this judgment must be most severe. If so, who can pass this judgment? How we hope that God will have mercy upon us before the judgment seat, for even there, there is grace. This is what Matthew 18 speaks about. While it is true that God is absolutely righteous in His judgment, He is also forgiving. However, His forgiveness is based upon our forgiving others today. Suppose five people offend you, and you forgive them. Suppose another ten people offend you, and you forgive them again. Suppose you forgive everyone who has offended you. On that day, God will treat you justly. Since you have forgiven others, it is very just for God to forgive you at the judgment seat.

James 2:13 says, “For the judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” If you show mercy toward others, God will have mercy on you. If you show no mercy toward others, God will have no mercy on you. If you are daily forbearing, do not try to find fault, and are generous with others, God will also forgive you on that day.

Daily we need to pay attention to these things: (1) examine our own behavior so that we will not fall under God’s judging hand, and (2) have mercy toward and forgive others who may owe us much, so that we may obtain God’s forgiveness in that day.

Matthew 7:1 and 2 say, “Do not judge, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you.” The word “judgment” in this verse indicates that God will judge us in the same way that we judge others; this means that we will be judged by God on that day in the same manner that we judge our brothers today. For example, if we observe wrongdoing in a certain person and, rather than beseeching him in love, criticize him presumptuously and judge him severely, God will similarly judge us on that day. The way God will judge us on the day of judgment depends on how we treat others today. This is the meaning of the opening verses of Romans 2: “Therefore you are without excuse, O every man who judges, for in what you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth upon those who practice such things. And do you consider this, O man, who judge those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?” (vv. 1-3).

Luke 6:38 puts it even more clearly: “Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, they will give into your bosom. For with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you in return.” If we give to others, God will give to us abundantly and richly repay us with a measure not only full to the brim but also running over. The amount of grace you give to others is the same amount of grace God will give to you in the future. If you treat others severely today, you should not expect God to treat you generously in the future. Therefore, every Christian should learn not to be a “judge” and should avoid judging others with self-righteousness. If we do not forgive others, we will receive the most severe punishment in the millennium. We are destined to have eternal life because salvation is eternal. But if we do not forgive others who offend us in this life, God will not forgive us in the future.

How can a nation be destroyed? How can a house fall? Is it not because it is divided against itself? Therefore, God will not allow two people in His kingdom to be divided against each other, nor will He permit hatred in the hearts of His people. God will not allow a ruler of five cities to be in conflict with the ruler of another five cities. He cannot use anyone who is not a peacemaker to rule a city. He can only hand them over to the tormentor until they have paid all their debts. How do they make payment? They must be willing to pardon and forgive others from their hearts. Sooner or later we must forgive others; so why wait until that day?

Matthew 6:14 and 15 say, “For if you forgive men their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you also; but if you do not forgive men their offenses, neither will your Father forgive your offenses.” Matthew 5 through 7 speaks of the kingdom. Whoever does not forgive others shall not be forgiven by God. This forgiveness will affect his position in the kingdom. Whether or not he forgives will affect his being forgiven in the coming kingdom.

Today our God is testing us to see whether or not we are worthy to be kings in His kingdom and whether or not we are fit to govern in His kingdom. Do not think that serving in the church is a great thing; in the future, the things of the kingdom will be much greater. In the coming kingdom, God will give us higher and more glorious things to rule over. If we cannot manage small things today, we will not be able to handle great things in the future. If we cannot deal with things pertaining to this present life, how can we be qualified to judge angels in the future (1 Cor. 6:1-8). For the sake of that day, let us learn how to forgive others today.

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