Why does God put us through trials?
Malachi 3:2, where the phrase refiner’s fire is used, has been a popular verse in Western society for centuries due to its use in Handel’s famous oratorio Messiah. The verse reads, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” Let’s take a look at the prophet’s similes.
Malachi says that, when the Lord returns, no one will be able to stand before Him. The Lord’s holiness and judgment will be as a refiner’s blazing fire and as a fuller’s bleaching agent. The idea of “standing” before the Lord is associated with “withstanding” or “standing up to”; sinful human flesh will not have the strength, the right, or the desire to resist the Lord in His glory (cf. Psalm 76:7; Revelation 6:17).
The two similes help clarify why no one will be able to stand in the Day of the Lord. First, Malachi 3:2 says the Messiah will be like a refiner’s fire, an allusion to the process of purifying metal. A refiner uses a fire to heat metal to a molten state; then he skims off the dross that floats to the top. The refiner’s fire is, of course, maintained at an extremely high temperature, and such a high degree of heat is the prophet’s picture of the testing people will face on Judgment Day. All judgment has been entrusted to the Son (John 5:22). Upon Christ’s return, the intense flame of God’s judgment will purify the earth, removing the dross of sin.
Second, the Messiah will be like a launderer’s soap. This type of soap was caustic and quite effective in producing bright white clothing. The HCSB translates it as “cleansing lye.” When Christ returns, He will cleanse the world of all impurity. Every stain of sin will be scrubbed away. The account of Jesus’ transfiguration contains a reference to His purity, using language similar to Malachi’s: “He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mark 9:2–3).
The goal of Jesus will be to judge wickedness and purify His people: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness” (Malachi 3:3). Like the refiner’s fire, He will burn away the impurities of the priests. Like launderer’s soap, He will wash away their uncleanness (Deuteronomy 4:29; Isaiah 1:25; Jeremiah 6:29–30; Ezekiel 22:17–22; Zechariah 3:5). The priests in the millennial kingdom will then be able to offer sacrifices from a pure heart. The sacrifices in those days will be similar to those when the temple was first built: “The offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years” (Malachi 3:4).
The refiner’s fire and launderer’s soap indicate the holiness and burning judgment of the Messiah when He returns to reign in Jerusalem at His second coming. His purifying brightness and absolute holiness will affect those who serve Him, creating a cleansed temple and purified priesthood. “See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him” (Isaiah 40:10).
When we ask why God tests us or allows us to be tested, we are admitting that testing does indeed come from Him. When God tests His children, He does a valuable thing. David sought God’s testing, asking Him to examine his heart and mind and see that they were true to Him (Psalm 26:2; 139:23). When Abram was tested by God in the matter of sacrificing Isaac, Abram obeyed (Hebrews 11:17–19) and showed to all the world that he is the father of faith (Romans 4:16).
In both the Old and New Testaments, the words translated “test” mean “to prove by trial.” Therefore, when God tests His children, His purpose is to prove that our faith is real. Not that God needs to prove it to Himself since He knows all things, but He is proving to us that our faith is real, that we are truly His children, and that no trial will overcome our faith.
In His Parable of the Sower, Jesus identifies the ones who fall away as those who receive the seed of God’s Word with joy, but, as soon as a time of testing comes along, they fall away. James says that the testing of our faith develops perseverance, which leads to maturity in our walk with God (James 1:3–4). James goes on to say that testing is a blessing, because, when the testing is over and we have “stood the test,” we will “receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Testing comes from our heavenly Father who works all things together for good for those who love Him and who are called to be the children of God (Romans 8:28).
The testing or trials we undergo come in various ways. Becoming a Christian will often require us to move out of our comfort zones and into the unknown. Perseverance in testing results in spiritual maturity and completeness. This is why James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). The testing of faith can come in small ways and daily irritations; they may also be severe afflictions (Isaiah 48:10) and attacks from Satan (Job 2:7). Whatever the source of the testing, it is to our benefit to undergo the trials that God allows.
The account of Job is a perfect example of God’s allowing one of His saints to be tested by the devil. Job bore all his trials patiently and “did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22). However, the account of Job’s testing is proof that Satan’s ability to try us is limited by God’s sovereign control. No demon can test or afflict us with beyond what God has ordained. All our trials work toward God’s perfect purpose and our benefit.
There are many examples of the positive results of being tested. The psalmist likens our testing to being refined like silver (Psalm 66:10). Peter speaks of our faith as “of greater worth than gold,” and that’s why we “suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6–7). In testing our faith, God causes us to grow into strong disciples who truly live by faith and not by what we see (2 Corinthians 5:7).
When we experience the storms of life, we should be like the tree that digs its roots ever more deeply for a greater grip in the earth. We must “dig our roots” more deeply into God’s Word and cling to His promises so we can weather whatever storms come against us.
Most comforting of all, we know that God will never allow us to be tested beyond what we are able to handle by His power. His grace is sufficient for us, and His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). “That is why,” Paul said, “for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
One of the most difficult parts of the Christian life is the fact that becoming a disciple of Christ does not make us immune to life’s trials and tribulations. Why would a good and loving God allow us to go through such things as the death of a child, disease and injury to ourselves and our loved ones, financial hardships, worry and fear? Surely, if He loved us, He would take all these things away from us. After all, doesn’t loving us mean He wants our lives to be easy and comfortable? Well, no, it doesn’t. The Bible clearly teaches that God loves those who are His children, and He “works all things together for good” for us (Romans 8:28). So that must mean that the trials and tribulations He allows in our lives are part of the working together of all things for good. Therefore, for the believer, all trials and tribulations must have a divine purpose.
As in all things, God’s ultimate purpose for us is to grow more and more into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). This is the goal of the Christian, and everything in life, including the trials and tribulations, is designed to enable us to reach that goal. It is part of the process of sanctification, being set apart for God’s purposes and fitted to live for His glory. The way trials accomplish this is explained in 1 Peter 1:6-7: "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which perishes, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." The true believer’s faith will be made sure by the trials we experience so that we can rest in the knowledge that it is real and will last forever.
Trials develop godly character, and that enables us to "rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5). Jesus Christ set the perfect example. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). These verses reveal aspects of His divine purpose for both Jesus Christ’s trials and tribulations and ours. Persevering proves our faith. "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
However, we must be careful never to make excuses for our "trials and tribulations" if they are a result of our own wrongdoing. "By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler" (1 Peter 4:15). God will forgive our sins because the eternal punishment for them has been paid by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. However, we still have to suffer the natural consequences in this life for our sins and bad choices. But God uses even those sufferings to mold and shape us for His purposes and our ultimate good.
Trials and tribulations come with both a purpose and a reward. "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. . . . Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:2-4,12).
Through all of life’s trials and tribulations, we have the victory. "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ." Although we are in a spiritual battle, Satan has no authority over the believer in Christ. God has given us His Word to guide us, His Holy Spirit to enable us, and the privilege of coming to Him anywhere, at any time, to pray about anything.
The biggest challenge on planet earth is the question on how to end human suffering. We don't have to figure it out, we have the roadmap. Unmerited free grace is the free gift offered to all people through faith in the redemptive work and power of God.
Of all the challenges thrown at Christianity in modern times, perhaps the most difficult is explaining the problem of suffering. How can a loving God allow suffering to continue in the world which He created?
For those who have endured massive suffering themselves, this is much more than a philosophical issue, but a deep-seated personal and emotional one.
How does the Bible address this issue? Does the Bible give us any examples of suffering and some indicators on how to deal with it?
The Bible is startlingly realistic when it comes to the problem of endured suffering. For one thing, the Bible devotes an entire book to dealing with the problem. This book concerns a man named Job. It begins with a scene in heaven which provides the reader with the background of Job’s suffering.
Job suffers because God contested with Satan.
As far as we know, this was never known by Job or any of his friends.
It is therefore not surprising that they all struggle to explain Job’s suffering from the perspective of their ignorance, until Job finally rests in nothing but the faithfulness of God and the hope of His redemption.
Neither Job nor his friends understood at the time the reasons for his suffering. In fact, when Job is finally confronted by the Lord, Job is silent.
Job’s silent response does not in any way trivialize the intense pain and loss he had so patiently endured. Rather, it underscores the importance of trusting God’s purposes in the midst of suffering, even when we don’t know what those purposes are.
Suffering, like all other human experiences, is directed by the sovereign wisdom of God. In the end, we learn that we may never know the specific reason for our suffering, but we must trust in our sovereign God. That is the real answer to suffering.
Another example of suffering in the Bible is Joseph’s story in the book of Genesis. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers. In Egypt, he was indicted on false charges and thrown into prison. As a result of Joseph’s suffering and endurance, by God’s grace and power, Joseph is later promoted to governor of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.
He finds himself in a position to make provision for the nations of the world during a time of famine, including his own family and the brothers who sold him into slavery! The message of this story is summarized in Joseph’s address to his brothers in Genesis 50:19-21: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”
Similarly, in Job 11:13–19, Zophar says, “Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear. You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor.”
Job, on the other hand, knows that he has not sinned, so he maintains his innocence before his friends. This is not to say that Job thinks he is perfect or sinless, but he counters the assumption that he must have committed some horrible sin (which he has successfully hidden) to warrant such a response from God. As described in the first verse of chapter 1, Job was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” There is a difference between being sinless, which no one is, and being a person of integrity who genuinely wants to please God.
Interestingly, Job does not question the retribution principle but continues to affirm it. He thinks he understands the way things are supposed to work, and he cannot understand why God is doing this to him. First, he is plunged into despair and laments that he was ever born (Job 3). Then he begins to doubt God’s justice and wisdom. It seems to him that God is not “playing by the rules.” Job’s friends see this as an attack upon the character of God: In Job 8:2–3 Bildad asks, “How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind. Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right?”
In chapter 23 Job says that, if he could only present his case to God, he could prove his innocence.
Back and forth the argument goes between Job and his friends. They say God is just so this travail could not happen to a righteous man. Job says he is righteous, and he just can’t figure out how this could happen to him. His world has been completely turned upside down. Yet no one questions the retribution principle or suggests that God is not bound by those “rules.”
In Job 27, Job affirms the retribution principle again and states that God has denied him justice (verse 2). He is doubting and in despair, yet he never curses God (as his wife suggests he should in Job 2:9). He never turns his back on God. He simply thinks that there must be some mistake and, if he could present his case before God, things could be straightened out. But, alas, God seems nowhere to be found (see Job 23).
Then Elihu, a fourth friend, speaks. He does not offer a solution but rebukes the three friends for accusing Job of wrongdoing even though they have no evidence of it. He also rebukes Job for accusing God of being unfair.
Finally, God speaks to Job. Instead of giving Job an explanation, He essentially says that Job has no idea about how God governs the world. In Job 38:2–4 God asks Job, “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” This line of questioning continues through chapter 41.
In Job 42:1–6, Job admits that he really does not know all the ways of God:
“Then Job replied to the Lord: ‘I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘You asked, “Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?”
‘Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.
‘You said, “Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”
‘My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’”
Job certainly has come to believe that he has sinned in his response to God.
In Job 1, after the initial hardships that Job endured, the closing verse states, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” This is not the verdict on Job for everything he says in the whole book, but a specific statement about his initial response. Later on, Job doubted and questioned God. Some might see this as sin. Others might see what Job did as something like the laments in the Psalms. However, God does not reprimand Job (other than the questioning in chapters 38—41). God does reprimand Job’s three friends “because you have not spoken truth about me as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).
The truth that Job spoke is probably in Job 42:1–6 where Job admitted that God’s ways are beyond his understanding. The three friends think they understand God perfectly! God then directs Job to offer sacrifices on behalf of his friends and to pray for them, saying He will forgive them. This is a vindication of Job’s righteousness (Job 42:8–9).
Romans 8:28 contains some comforting words for those enduring hardship and suffering: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In His providence, God orchestrates every event in our lives—even suffering, temptation and sin—to accomplish both our temporal and eternal benefit.
The psalmist David endured much suffering in his time, and this is reflected in many of his poems collected in the book of Psalms. In Psalm 22, we hear David’s anguish: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry out by day but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 'He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.'”
It remains a mystery to David why God does not intervene and end his suffering and pain. He sees God as enthroned as the Holy One, the praise of Israel. God lives in heaven where all is good, where there is no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What does God know of all that humans endure? David goes on to complain that “dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
Did God ever answer David? Yes, many centuries later, David received his answer. Roughly one millennium later, a descendant of David named Jesus was killed on a hill called Calvary. On the cross, Jesus endured the suffering and shame of his forefather. Christ’s hands and feet were pierced. Christ’s garments were divided among his enemies. Christ was stared at and derided. In fact, Christ uttered the words with which David opens this psalm: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” thus identifying Himself with the suffering of David.
Christ, the eternal Son of God in whom the
fullness of God dwells,
has lived on earth as a human being and has endured hunger, thirst, temptation, shame, persecution, nakedness, bereavement, betrayal, abandonment, mockery, injustice and death.
Therefore, He is in a position to fulfill the longing of Job:
'If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot” (Job 9:33).
Christian theism is, in fact, the only worldview which can consistently make sense of the problem of evil and suffering.
Christians serve a God who has lived on this earth and endured trauma, temptation, bereavement, torture, hunger, thirst, persecution and even execution. The cross of Christ can be regarded as the ultimate manifestation of God’s justice.
When asked how much God cares about the problem of evil and suffering, the Christian God can point to the cross and say,
Christ experienced physical pain as well as feelings of rejection and abandonment. He experienced the same suffering as many people today who know the bitterness of isolation, pain, and anguish.
Everyone is in need of redemption.
Our natural condition was characterized by guilt: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Christ’s redemption has freed us from guilt, being “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
The benefits of redemption include eternal life (Revelation 5:9-10), forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7), righteousness (Romans 5:17), freedom from the law’s curse (Galatians 3:13), adoption into God’s family (Galatians 4:5), deliverance from sin’s bondage (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:14-18), peace with God (Colossians 1:18-20), and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). To be redeemed, then, is to be forgiven, holy, justified, free, adopted, and reconciled. See also Psalm 130:7-8; Luke 2:38; and Acts 20:28.
The word redeem means “to buy out.” The term was used specifically in reference to the purchase of a slave’s freedom. The application of this term to Christ’s death on the cross is quite telling. If we are “redeemed,” then our prior condition was one of slavery. God has purchased our freedom, and we are no longer in bondage to sin or to the Old Testament law. This metaphorical use of “redemption” is the teaching of Galatians 3:13 and 4:5.
Related to the Christian concept of redemption is the word ransom. Jesus paid the price for our release from sin and its punishment (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6). His death was in exchange for our life. In fact, Scripture is quite clear that redemption is only possible “through His blood,” that is, by His death (Colossians 1:14).
The streets of heaven will be filled with former captives who, through no merit of their own, find themselves redeemed, forgiven, and free. Slaves to sin have become saints. No wonder we will sing a new song—a song of praise to the Redeemer who was slain (Revelation 5:9).
Ephesians 1 contains Paul’s amazing prayer for the believers in Ephesus. Part of that prayer is, “I pray that . . . you may know . . . his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:18–20). The power behind Christ’s resurrection is now working on our behalf. This is a wonderful truth.
Ephesians 1 works through the various roles of the Trinity in the redemption of man. The Father has chosen (verse 4) and predestined (verse 5) believers to adoption in Jesus Christ. The Son has accomplished redemption through His death (Ephesians 1:7) and provided the necessary provisions for an inheritance for the believer (verse 11). The Holy Spirit has sealed the believer, providing the necessary down payment to give assurance and security of the eternal destination to the believer (Ephesians 1:13–14). All of this is for God’s glory (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).
After addressing the role and example of God’s power in Ephesians 1:1–14, Paul then informs the Ephesians that he gives thanks for them and their faith (verses 15–16). He makes supplication for the continued growth of the Ephesians in knowledge (Ephesians 1:17–19a) and explains truth regarding the power and position of Christ, including the subjection of all things to Christ (verses 19b–23).
Ephesians 1:19–20 is discussing Paul’s earnest desire for the Ephesians to attain knowledge regarding the power of God toward the believer. This is the same power God brought about in Christ. The context for this passage is important. Paul previously prays that the Ephesians would understand the hope, or certainty, of their calling and future inheritance (Ephesians 1:18). These things are brought about by the power of God for the believer.
How might the believer have certainty in the hope mentioned in Ephesians 1:18? It’s certainly not because of the power of the believer, but the power of God. The power mentioned in Ephesians 1:19–20 is continually attributed to God, not us. It is God’s power that accomplishes the many miracles of redemption mentioned in Ephesians 1. Without God’s power, these things would not be possible (see Luke 18:26–27).
Has God given this power to the believer according to Ephesians 1:19–20? The text doesn’t indicate that we personally have the power to raise the dead or perform other miracles. Instead, it is “power toward us” (Ephesians 1:19, ESV, emphasis added). Paul is praying for the Ephesians’ understanding of God’s work on their behalf. It is a powerful work, past, present, and future: God’s power was evident in their conversion, God’s power is evident in their endurance, and God’s power will be evident in their resurrection. This certainty is provided in Jesus Christ.
In Jerusalem, on the hill of Calvary, the Jewish and Roman leaders successfully killed Jesus Christ, the Messiah (John 19:30). Jesus was buried and remained in the tomb for three days (John 19:42). After this time, Jesus rose from the dead, the miracle of miracles. It is the power of God that made this possible. Because of this event, the believer can have assurance that the same power—the immeasurable power of God—is working on his behalf today and will continue to provide what he needs until he arrives in heaven.
Ephesians 1:19–20 is not stating that believers have received the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. It is simply providing hope and certainty for the believer, who has assurance because of the power that raised Jesus from the dead. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, God can provide all that is promised to the believer. This was true for the Ephesians, and it is true for us today. We can read the promises of God and be certain of God’s ability to fulfill those promises, even those of redemption, resurrection, and glorification.
Before the disciples would begin their ministry, they were to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). After the Holy Spirit came, the disciples were equipped for their work, and we see them proclaiming powerfully the gospel of Jesus Christ (e.g., Peter in Acts 2—4). The Holy Spirit had indeed guided them into the truth (John 16:13) and brought to their remembrance what Jesus had said to them (John 14:26).
While we certainly benefit from that work of the Holy Spirit—as we have the writings of these men whom the Holy Spirit guided into the truth—it is clear from other contexts that this is not how the Holy Spirit works with all believers. Guiding into the truth was simply a purpose for which He was sent to empower and equip the disciples. Paul tells Timothy, for example, that Timothy should be diligent as a workman, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Timothy would have to work to understand what had been written, and he would have to be diligent to hold true and pass along the things he had heard from Paul (2 Timothy 2:2). Similarly, we are told that all Scripture is from God’s mouth and is profitable for believers’ growth and equipping (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
We are thankful for and benefit greatly from the Holy Spirit guiding the apostles into all the truth, and we recognize that, because of the Spirit’s work through the disciples, we have His record: the Bible.
The gospel message is the good news of God’s grace, so it is important to know what grace is and to constantly seek to get a better view of what grace does in our lives.
Grace is an essential part of God’s character. Grace is closely related to God’s benevolence, love, and mercy. Grace can be variously defined as “God’s favor toward the unworthy” or “God’s benevolence on the undeserving.” In His grace, God is willing to forgive us and bless us abundantly, in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve to be treated so well or dealt with so generously.
To fully understand grace, we need to consider who we were without Christ and who we become with Christ. We were born in sin (Psalm 51:5), and we were guilty of breaking God’s holy laws (Romans 3:9–20, 23; 1 John 1:8–10). We were enemies of God (Romans 5:6, 10; 8:7; Colossians 1:21), deserving of death (Romans 6:23a). We were unrighteous (Romans 3:10) and without means of justifying ourselves (Romans 3:20). Spiritually, we were destitute, blind, unclean, and dead. Our souls were in peril of everlasting punishment.
But then came grace. God extended His favor to us. Grace is what saves us (Ephesians 2:8). Grace is the essence of the gospel (Acts 20:24). Grace gives us victory over sin (James 4:6). Grace gives us “eternal encouragement and good hope” (2 Thessalonians 2:16). Paul repeatedly identified grace as the basis of his calling as an apostle (Romans 15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; Ephesians 3:2, 7). Jesus Christ is the embodiment of grace, coupled with truth (John 1:14).
The Bible repeatedly calls grace a “gift” (e.g., Ephesians 4:7). This is an important analogy because it teaches us some key things about grace:
First, anyone who has ever received a gift understands that a gift is much different from a loan, which requires repayment or return by the recipient. The fact that grace is a gift means that nothing is owed in return.
Second, there is no cost to the person who receives a gift. A gift is free to the recipient, although it is not free to the giver, who bears the expense. The gift of salvation costs us sinners nothing. But the price of such an extravagant gift came at a great cost for our Lord Jesus, who died in our place.
Third, once a gift has been given, ownership of the gift has transferred and it is now ours to keep. There is a permanence in a gift that does not exist with loans or advances. When a gift changes hands, the giver permanently relinquishes all rights to renege or take back the gift in future. God’s grace is ours forever.
Fourth, in the giving of a gift, the giver voluntarily forfeits something he owns, willingly losing what belongs to him so that the recipient will profit from it. The giver becomes poorer so the recipient can become richer. This generous and voluntary exchange from the giver to the recipient is visible in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Finally, the Bible teaches that grace is completely unmerited. The gift and the act of giving have nothing at all to do with our merit or innate quality (Romans 4:4; 11:5–6; 2 Timothy 1:9–10). In fact, the Bible says quite clearly that we don’t deserve God’s salvation. Romans 5:8–10 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . . While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.”
Grace does not stop once we are saved; God is gracious to us for the rest of our lives, working within and upon us. The Bible encourages us with many additional benefits that grace secures for every believer:
• Grace justifies us before a holy God (Romans 3:24; Ephesians 1:6; Titus 3:7).
• Grace provides us access to God to communicate and fellowship with Him (Ephesians 1:6; Hebrews 4:16).
• Grace wins for us a new relationship of intimacy with God (Exodus 33:17).
• Grace disciplines and trains us to live in a way that honors God (Titus 2:11–14; 2 Corinthians 8:7).
• Grace grants us immeasurable spiritual riches (Proverbs 10:22; Ephesians 2:7).
• Grace helps us in our every need (Hebrews 4:16).
• Grace is the reason behind our every deliverance (Psalm 44:3–8; Hebrews 4:16).
• Grace preserves us and comforts, encourages, and strengthens us (2 Corinthians 13:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17; 2 Timothy 2:1).
Grace is actively and continually working in the lives of God’s people. Paul credited the success of his ministry not to his own substantial labors but to “the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Grace is the ongoing, benevolent act of God working in us, without which we can do nothing (John 15:5). Grace is greater than our sin (Romans 5:20), more abundant than we expect (1 Timothy 1:14), and too wonderful for words (2 Corinthians 9:15).
As the recipients of God’s grace, Christians are to be gracious to others. Grace is given to us to serve others and to exercise our spiritual gifts for the building up of the church (Romans 12:6; Ephesians 3:2, 7; 4:7; 1 Peter 4:10).
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit—the pouring out of God’s Spirit to fill and indwell people—was prophesied in the Old Testament and fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2). This event was predicted in the Old Testament: in Isaiah 44:3 God said to Israel, “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” The Holy Spirit is pictured as the “water of life” that saves and blesses a dying people. On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted another prophecy as being fulfilled: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. . . . And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:28–29, 32).
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit ushered in a new era, the church age. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was a rare gift that was only given to a few people, and usually for only short periods of time. When Saul was anointed king of Israel, the Holy Spirit came upon him (1 Samuel 10:10), but when God removed His blessing on Saul, the Holy Spirit left him (1 Samuel 16:14). The Holy Spirit came for specific moments or seasons in the lives of Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (Judges 6:34), and Samson (Judges 13:25; 14:6) as well, to enable them to do His will and serve Israel. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all believers in Christ, and He came to stay. This marked a major change in the Holy Spirit’s work.
Before His arrest, Jesus had promised to send His disciples the Holy Spirit (John 14:15–17). The Spirit “lives with you and will be in you,” Jesus said (John 14:17). This was a prophecy of the indwelling of the Spirit, another distinctive of the church age. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 marked the fulfillment of Jesus’ words, too, as the Holy Spirit came upon all believers in a powerful, visible (and audible) way. Luke records the event: “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:2–4). Immediately, the Spirit-filled believers went into the streets of Jerusalem and preached Christ. Three thousand people were saved and baptized that day; the church had begun (verse 41).
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon humanity was the inauguration of the New Covenant, which had been ratified by Jesus’ blood (Luke 22:20). According to the terms of the New Covenant, every believer is given the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). Ever since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has baptized every believer into Christ at the moment of salvation (1 Corinthians 12:13), as He comes to permanently indwell God’s children.
In the book of Acts, there are three “outpourings” of the Holy Spirit, to three different people groups at three different times. The first was to Jews and proselytes in Jerusalem (Acts 2). The second was to a group of believing Samaritans (Acts 😎. The third was to a group of believing Gentiles (Acts 10). Significantly, Peter was present at all three outpourings. Three times, God sent the Holy Spirit with demonstrable signs, as the Great Commission was being fulfilled. The same Holy Spirit coming upon Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles in the same manner in the presence of the same apostle kept the early church unified. There was not a “Jewish” church, a “Samaritan” church, and a “Roman” church—there was one church, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).
The outpouring of the Spirit is different from the filling of the Spirit. The outpouring was a unique coming of the Holy Spirit to earth; the filling happens whenever we are surrendered to God’s control of our lives. We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). In this regard it is possible for the believer either to be “filled with the Spirit” or to “quench” the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). In either case, the Holy Spirit remains with the believer (as opposed to the Old Testament era, when the Holy Spirit would come and go). The filling of the Spirit comes as a direct result of submission to God’s will, and the quenching is a direct result of rebelling against God’s will.
Deliverance is defined as “a rescue from bondage or danger.” Deliverance in the Bible is the acts of God whereby He rescues His people from peril. In the Old Testament, deliverance is focused primarily on God’s removal of those who are in the midst of trouble or danger. He rescues His people from their enemies (1 Samuel 17:37; 2 Kings 20:6), and from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 7:2; 17:13; 18:16-19; 59:2). He preserves them from famine (Psalm 33:19), death (Psalm 22:19-21), and the grave (Psalm 56:13; 86:13; Hosea 13:14). The most striking example of deliverance is the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 3:8; 6:6; 8:10). Here is God defined as the Deliverer of Israel who rescues His people, not because they deserve to be rescued, but as an expression of His mercy and love (Psalm 51:1; 71:2; 86:13).
In the New Testament, God is always the subject—and His people are always the object—of deliverance. The descriptions of temporal deliverance in the Old Testament serve as symbolic representations of the spiritual deliverance from sin which is available only through Christ. He offers deliverance from mankind’s greatest peril—sin, evil, death and judgment. By God’s power, believers are delivered from this present evil age (Galatians 1:4) and from the power of Satan’s reign (Colossians 1:13). All aspects of deliverance are available only through the person and work of Jesus Christ, who was Himself delivered up for us (Romans 4:25) so that we would be delivered from eternal punishment for sin. Only Jesus rescues us from the “wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
Another aspect of deliverance concerns the temporal. While believers are delivered once for all time from eternal punishment, we are also delivered from the trials of this life (2 Peter 2:9). Sometimes that deliverance is God simply walking through the trials by our side, comforting and encouraging us through them as He uses them to mature us in the faith. Paul assured the Corinthian believers that “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). In these cases, rescue is not immediate, but in due time, after patience has had its perfect work (James 1:2-4, 12). God makes the way of escape simultaneously with the temptation which, in His perfect will and timing, He permissively arranges or allows for His people.
Deliverance is often sought from evil spirits or the spirit of lust, jealousy, etc. It’s important to understand that, as believers, we already have eternal victory over Satan and demons. But we can be delivered from their influence in our lives by using two weapons God has given us as part of our spiritual armor with which we battle “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12-17). The believer defends himself with the shield of faith and uses the offensive weapon of the Word of God. Against these two, no spirit can prevail. By holding up the shield of faith, we extinguish the flaming spiritual arrows they send against us, arrows of lust, doubt, guilt, jealousy, evil speech, and all manner of temptations. With the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, we overcome the evil one by proving his temptations to be lies because he is the father of lies (John 8:44). John’s second letter commends the young Christians whose spiritual strength came from the Word of God living in them. By the offensive weapon of the Truth, we overcome the evil one (1 John 2:14).
Deliverance from sin, rescue from trials, and escape from the influence of a world in the control of the evil one come only through Christ, the Son of God who has come and “has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:19-20).
Salvation is deliverance from danger or suffering. To save is to deliver or protect. The word carries the idea of victory, health, or preservation. Sometimes, the Bible uses the words saved or salvation to refer to temporal, physical deliverance, such as Paul’s deliverance from prison (Philippians 1:19).
More often, the word “salvation” concerns an eternal, spiritual deliverance. When Paul told the Philippian jailer what he must do to be saved, he was referring to the jailer’s eternal destiny (Acts 16:30-31). Jesus equated being saved with entering the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24-25).
What are we saved from? In the Christian doctrine of salvation, we are saved from “wrath,” that is, from God’s judgment of sin (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9). Our sin has separated us from God, and the consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Biblical salvation refers to our deliverance from the consequence of sin and therefore involves the removal of sin.
Who does the saving? Only God can remove sin and deliver us from sin’s penalty (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5).
How does God save? In the Christian doctrine of salvation, God has rescued us through Christ (John 3:17). Specifically, it was Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection that achieved our salvation (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 1:7). Scripture is clear that salvation is the gracious, undeserved gift of God (Ephesians 2:5, and is only available through faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).
How do we receive salvation? We are saved by faith. First, we must hear the gospel—the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Ephesians 1:13). Then, we must believe—fully trust the Lord Jesus (Romans 1:16). This involves repentance, a changing of mind about sin and Christ (Acts 3:19), and calling on the name of the Lord (Romans 10:9-10, 13).
A definition of the Christian doctrine of salvation would be “The deliverance, by the grace of God, from eternal punishment for sin which is granted to those who accept by faith God’s conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus.” Salvation is available in Jesus alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) and is dependent on God alone for provision, assurance, and security.
The New Covenant (or New Testament) is the promise that God makes with humanity that He will forgive sin and restore fellowship with those whose hearts are turned toward Him. Jesus Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, and His death on the cross is the basis of the promise (Luke 22:20). The New Covenant was predicted while the Old Covenant was still in effect—the prophets Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all allude to the New Covenant.
The Old Covenant that God had established with His people required strict obedience to the Mosaic Law. Because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), the Law required that Israel perform daily sacrifices in order to atone for sin. But Moses, through whom God established the Old Covenant, also anticipated the New Covenant. In one of his final addresses to the nation of Israel, Moses looks forward to a time when Israel would be given “a heart to understand” (Deuteronomy 29:4, ESV). Moses predicts that Israel would fail in keeping the Old Covenant (verses 22–28), but he then sees a time of restoration (30:1–5). At that time, Moses says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (verse 6). The New Covenant involves a total change of heart so that God’s people are naturally pleasing to Him.
The prophet Jeremiah also predicted the New Covenant. “‘The day will come,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. . . . But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,’ says the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people’” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33). Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17) and to establish the New Covenant between God and His people. The Old Covenant was written in stone, but the New Covenant is written on our hearts. Entering the New Covenant is made possible only by faith in Christ, who shed His blood to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Luke 22:20 relates how Jesus, at the Last Supper, takes the cup and says, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (ESV).
The New Covenant is also mentioned in Ezekiel 36:26–27, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel lists several aspects of the New Covenant here: a new heart, a new spirit, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and true holiness. The Mosaic Law could provide none of these things (see Romans 3:20).
The New Covenant was originally given to Israel and includes a promise of fruitfulness, blessing, and a peaceful existence in the Promised Land. In Ezekiel 36:28–30 God says, “Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. . . . I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine.” Deuteronomy 30:1–5 contains similar promises related to Israel under the New Covenant. After the resurrection of Christ, Gentiles were brought into the blessing of the New Covenant, too (Acts 10; Ephesians 2:13–14). The fulfillment of the New Covenant will be seen in two places: on earth, during the Millennial Kingdom; and in heaven, for all eternity.
We are no longer under the Law but under grace (Romans 6:14–15). The Old Covenant has served its purpose, and it has been replaced by “a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22). “In fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).
Under the New Covenant, we are given the opportunity to receive salvation as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8–9). Our responsibility is to exercise faith in Christ, the One who fulfilled the Law on our behalf and brought an end to the Law’s sacrifices through His own sacrificial death. Through the life-giving Holy Spirit who lives in all believers (Romans 8:9–11), we share in the inheritance of Christ and enjoy a permanent, unbroken relationship with God (Hebrews 9:15).
In order for something to be declared true, it must be discoverable, transcultural, unchanging, unaffected by attitude, absolute, and knowable. For example, 2+2=4 is a truth that can be discovered (not created by one person), transcends all cultures, never changes, cannot be affected by feelings, is absolute in its factualness, and is knowable by all of humanity.
These same qualities and attributes can be ascribed to the God of the Bible. God is truth. He made Himself discoverable throughout history and through the Bible (Exodus 8:10); He transcends all cultures in His very attributes (Job 38); His existence cannot be affected by our feelings or attitudes (Psalm 25); He is absolute as the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:18); and He is knowable through Scripture and personal revelation by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).
The ultimate revelation of God and therefore of truth is Jesus Christ. He is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said (John 14:9). In the same conversation, Jesus equated Himself with truth: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6; cf. John 1:17).
Since truth itself is part of and proceeds from the nature of God, and all truth is bound up in Jesus Christ, then, yes, all truth is God’s truth. If something is discovered to be true, like 2+2=4 or that love is the ultimate virtue (1 John 4:8), then that truth can only come from the God of truth, as revealed in the Bible.
Pontius Pilate famously asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). In His conversation with Pilate, Jesus said, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). And that’s when Pilate, who found himself between a rock and hard place politically, asked his famous question.
The truth was standing right in front of Pilate. Jesus, the only Son of God, was speaking truth to him at that very moment. The truth wasn’t a theory or an equation or proof; truth was God in the flesh dwelling among us. Anyone who wants truth that is unalterable (as it should be by nature) must find it in the person of Jesus Christ.
Philosophers, intellectuals, and even artists have tried to name truth apart from Jesus Christ, and it’s popular to speak of “my truth” or “your truth” as opposed to a universal truth. Whole generations have rejected absolute truth in the postmodern mindset. But truth is what conforms to reality, and if something is true, it is true for all people for all time in all places.
Creation speaks to the absolute truth of God through Jesus Christ: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
All truth is God’s truth. When a mathematician works with Euler’s equation or when a biologist discovers a new species of animal, he is dealing with fundamental truths of how God designed the world. Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer who is called “the father of celestial mechanics,” is credited with describing his study of the universe as “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” Kepler understood that all truth is God’s truth.
In a world full of relativism, lies, and half-truths, it’s good to know that truth exists. To embrace God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, is to embrace truth.
Deuteronomy 6:4 contains the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” There is unity within the Godhead. Later, when Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), He further emphasized unity in the Godhead.
After Jesus had ascended to heaven to be with the Father, Paul encouraged the church with the idea of the Trinity, three co-equal members of the Godhead. He says of Jesus, “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18). The Holy Spirit unites and encourages believers and connects them with Christ and the Father. The church is to reflect the unity of the Godhead: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3–6)
Another important manifestation of unity in the Bible is when a sinner accepts the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in return receiving eternal life. Jesus said, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29). Eternal security of salvation is promised to the believer from the moment of conversion.
Unity spurs the believer on to glorify Christ. Ephesians 4:15–16 states, “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Nothing captures unity quite like the picture of Christ being the head and believers being parts of a single body.
Another picture of our unity with Christ is found in Jesus’ command to “remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4). And Peter pictured us as joined to Christ in God’s ultimate building project. Jesus is the Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6–7), and “you come to him, the living Stone . . . you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:4–5). Unity with Christ is essential for the success of a believer’s service to God.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). The statement has three parts— salvation, grace, and faith—and they are equally important. The three together constitute a basic tenet of Christianity.
The word salvation is defined as “the act of being delivered, redeemed, or rescued.” The Bible tells us that, since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, each person is born in sin inherited from Adam: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Sin is what causes all of us to die. Sin separates us from God, and sin destines each person to eternal separation from Him in hell. What each of us needs is to be delivered from that fate. In other words, we need salvation from sin and its penalty.
How are we saved from sin? Most religions throughout history have taught that salvation is achieved by good works. Others teach that acts of contrition (saying we are sorry) along with living a moral life is the way to atone for our sin. Sorrow over sin is certainly valuable and necessary, but that alone will not save us from sin. We may repent of our sins, also valuable and necessary, and determine to never sin again, but salvation is not the result of good intentions. The road to hell, as the saying goes, is paved with good intentions. We may fill our lives with good works, but even one sin makes us a sinner in practice, and we are already sinners by nature. No matter how well-intentioned or “good” we may be, the fact is that we simply do not have the power or the goodness to overcome the sin nature we have inherited from Adam. We need something more powerful, and this is where grace comes in.
The grace of God is His undeserved favor bestowed on those He has called to salvation through His love (Ephesians 2:4–5). It is His grace that saves us from sin. We are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Being justified, we are vindicated and determined to be sinless in the eyes of God. Our sin no longer separates us from Him and no longer sentences us to hell. Grace is not earned by any effort on our part; otherwise, it could not be called grace. Grace is free. If our good works earned salvation, then God would be obligated to pay us our due. But no one can earn heaven, and God’s blessings are not His obligation; they flow from His goodness and love. No matter how diligently we pursue works to earn God’s favor, we will fail. Our sin trips us up every time. “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20, NKJV).
The means God has chosen to bestow His grace upon us is through faith. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Salvation is obtained by faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, in what He has done—specifically, His death on the cross and His resurrection. But even faith is not something we generate on our own. Faith, as well as grace, is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). He bestows saving faith and saving grace upon us in order to redeem us from sin and deliver us from its consequences. So God saves us by His grace through the faith He gives us. Both grace and faith are gifts. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Psalm 3:8, ESV).
By grace, we receive the faith that enables us to believe that He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross and provide the salvation we cannot achieve on our own. Jesus, as God in flesh, is the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Just like the author of a book creates it from scratch, Jesus Christ wrote the story of our redemption from beginning to end. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:4–6). The Lord died for our sins and rose for our justification, and He forgives, freely and fully, those who accept His gift of grace in Christ—and that acceptance comes through faith. This is the meaning of salvation by grace through faith.
In a world filled with war and violence, it’s difficult to see how Jesus could be the all-powerful God who acts in human history and be the embodiment of peace. But physical safety and political harmony don’t necessarily reflect the kind of peace He’s talking about (John 14:27).
The Hebrew word for “peace,” shalom, is often used in reference to an appearance of calm and tranquility of individuals, groups, and nations. The Greek word eirene means “unity and accord”; Paul uses eirene to describe the objective of the New Testament church. But the deeper, more foundational meaning of peace is “the spiritual harmony brought about by an individual’s restoration with God.”
In our sinful state, we are enemies with God (Romans 5:10). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are restored to a relationship of peace with God (Romans 5:1). This is the deep, abiding peace between our hearts and our Creator that cannot be taken away (John 10:27–28) and the ultimate fulfillment of Christ’s work as “Prince of Peace.”
But Christ’s sacrifice provides more for us than eternal peace; it also allows us to have a relationship with the Holy Spirit, the Helper who promises to guide us (John 16:7, 13). Further, the Holy Spirit will manifest Himself in us by having us live in ways we couldn’t possibly live on our own, including filling our lives with love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:22–23). This love, joy, and peace are all results of the Holy Spirit working in the life of a believer. They are reflections of His presence in us. And, although their deepest, most vital result is to have us live in love, joy, and peace with God, they can’t help but to spill over into our relationships with people.
The New Jerusalem, which is also called the Tabernacle of God, the Holy City, the City of God, the Celestial City, the City Foursquare, and Heavenly Jerusalem, is literally heaven on earth. It is referred to in the Bible in several places (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:10; 12:22–24; and 13:14), but it is most fully described in Revelation 21.
In Revelation 21, the recorded history of man is at its end. All of the ages have come and gone. Christ has gathered His church in the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:15–17). The Tribulation has passed (Revelation 6—18). The battle of Armageddon has been fought and won by our Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:17–21). Satan has been chained for the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth (Revelation 20:1–3). A new, glorious temple has been established in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 40—48). The final rebellion against God has been quashed, and Satan has received his just punishment, an eternity in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:7–10.) The Great White Throne Judgment has taken place, and mankind has been judged (Revelation 20:11–15).
In Revelation 21:1 God does a complete make-over of heaven and earth (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:12–13). The new heaven and new earth are what some call the “eternal state” and will be “where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). After the re-creation, God reveals the New Jerusalem. John sees a glimpse of it in his vision: “The Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). This is the city that Abraham looked for in faith (Hebrews 11:10). It is the place where God will dwell with His people forever (Revelation 21:3). Inhabitants of this celestial city will have all tears wiped away (Revelation 21:4).
The New Jerusalem will be fantastically huge. John records that the city is nearly 1,400 miles long, and it is as wide and as high as it is long—the New Jerusalem being in equal in length, width, and depth (Revelation 21:15–17). The city will be dazzling in every way. It is lighted by the glory of God (verse 23). Its twelve foundations, bearing the names of the twelve apostles, are “decorated with every kind of precious stone” (verse 19). It has twelve gates, each a single pearl, bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (verses 12 and 21). The street will be made of pure gold (verse 21).
The New Jerusalem will be a place of unimagined blessing. The curse of the old earth will be gone (Revelation 22:3). In the city are the tree of life “for the healing of the nations” and the river of life (verses 1–2). It is the place that Paul spoke of: “In the coming ages [God] might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). The New Jerusalem is the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises. The New Jerusalem is God’s goodness made fully manifest.
Who are the residents of the New Jerusalem? The Father and the Lamb are there (Revelation 21:22). Angels are at the gates (verse 12). But the city will be filled with God’s redeemed children. The New Jerusalem is the righteous counter to the evil Babylon (Revelation 17), destroyed by God’s judgment (Revelation 18). The wicked had their city, and God has His. To which city do you belong? Babylon the Great or the New Jerusalem? If you believe that Jesus, the Son of God, died and rose again and have asked God to save you by His grace, then you are a citizen of the New Jerusalem. “God raised [you] up with Christ and seated [you] with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). You have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:4). If you have not yet trusted Christ as your Savior, then we urge you to receive Him. The invitation is extended: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say,
Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).
God gave us all the answers we need to end human suffering and create one new humanity. They all point to the unmerited, free and saving grace of the sacrificial cross. The Jewish Messiah, the prince of peace.
And Surely I tell you, before Moses Was,