I would guess that many people may have already put this essay down at this point.  It is far too pessimistic and negative for their tastes.  They want something to pep them up and keep them going.  All this talk of universal sinfulness and a broken relationship with God, all this about The Law of Sin and Death—this sort of stuff just does not go down very well.  My experience of many Americans is that they view life with considerable optimism and confidence.  I would characterize their approach to life in three ways:  self-reliance, the romance of progress, and striving for self-righteousness.
Self-reliance is a great American characteristic.  I have spent a lot of time in western Kansas.  Many of the people of this area have worked the land for many years.  Their parents or grandparents came to the area and homesteaded.  They lived in “dugouts” –half-underground buildings—or in sod houses.  They searched for water in this almost-desert plain.  They broke out the land with teams of horses or mules or tiny tractors.  They lived through the Dust Bowl 1930’s.  They were tough, independent, resilient.  They continue to farm at a time that requires wisdom in high-tech farm equipment, fertilizers, internet marketing techniques in a global market—all in the face of falling commodity prices.  Life is not easy, but they have survived.  The most attractive theology for such people is something like:  “God helps those who help themselves.”  
                In addition to the tough self-reliance of the pioneer spirit, most people hold onto a romance of progress.  During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, science and technology triumphed over all obstacles.  Libraries cannot contain the massive body of knowledge in physics, chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy, and all their associated sciences.  These sciences have led the way to applications in engineering, medicine, agronomy, computers, and all the other applied arts and sciences.  We can split and fuse atoms and cells, control by computer the timing of fuel injection into gasoline engines, monitor the yield of wheat on a field and use that computer stored information to control the application of fertilizer on the field (using satellite-guided locators), diagnose brain dysfunction through blood-flow mapping, follow by ultrasound heart function in 3-D, control moods and anxiety and depression with pills.  On and on we could continue with a listing of the miracles of the power of science and technology. 
                Against such a backdrop of success, people optimistically look to the future, certain that it holds ever greater progress and breakthroughs.  This is the unspoken religion of most people.  The only problem is that some people have such high expectations that they become angry when science does not immediately lead to success.  Thus, when the health professionals and sciences did not immediately cure AIDS, there were implications that this was an intolerable failure that must have been because the health community was prejudiced toward homosexuals.  We have suffered recently from the anthrax-by-mail crisis.  The news media imply that the health officials have made unforgivable mistakes and should have already solved all of the problems and mysteries.  Science can do anything and do it immediately.  If it does not perform as expected, then something is wrong with those who are responsible.
                This romance of progress is a faith in the future, a faith in science and technology, and a faith that somehow everything will eventually be OK. 
                To self-reliance and the romance of progress, I must add self-righteousness.  “Self-righteousness” or “self-righteous” is a term that has more than one connotation.  The most common use is as a pejorative term against someone who acts as though he or she is very righteous and most other people are terrible sinners.  We say something like:  “self-righteous hypocrite.”    But the meaning that I have in mind is not with quite so much anger.  I am simply thinking of that person who is convinced that their chief aim is to live a life of righteousness.  For this person (and there are many), “religion” or “Christianity” is defined essentially around the idea of doing good and avoiding evil.  Church is one important component in this project.  To this, one would add education, family life, civic clubs, and charitable activities.  All of these are understood to be opportunities to channel one’s efforts and guide one in proper directions of righteousness.  There is a vague assumption that this good life will be rewarded by God.  Surely, God would not fail to acknowledge the righteousness of a person who has been an upstanding member of the community, good to his or her family, and generally a really nice person. 
                This is the American religion:  self-reliance, the romance of progress, and striving for self-righteousness.  But that is not the religion of the Bible.  Certainly, all of these characteristics have their place and should not be condemned.  But the conclusion of the Bible is that the human condition is in far worse shape than a little dose of positive thinking will cure.

To make this case I shall digress and return to my theme of The Big Picture.  In Part One, I tried to emphasize that we often focus on a very small slice of life and desire that God change that little picture.  The other side of that coin is that we don’t want God to change The Big Picture.  If we are immersed in a culture of optimism—self-reliance, romance of progress, and self-righteousness—then we certainly don’t want someone to come along and change all the rules.  The truth is, we like our lives in many ways.  It’s just this one horrible calamity that seems so out of place. 
                However, such an understanding of life is really quite distorted.  If we were able to survey a panorama of time and geography, seeing at once all the peoples of the world today as well as all people throughout history, we might not see things with quite the optimism that seems instinctual in prosperous America.  The horror of September 11, 2001, momentarily knocked Americans into a sense of vulnerability.  As of this writing, America is back up and swinging.  I do not regret that, but I am saying that the American culture of optimism is not quite the full picture of life.
                The little picture view is that we would like God to turn the clock back to 9/10/01 and then take us through the next day without that horror.  But, do you see that such a philosophy is really saying:
OK, God, just take away the horror of 9/11/01.  We can handle the rest.  We are a can-do people who really have a great economy, a great government, a great society.  We are on our way to making things just perfect.  We still have our nut-cases and our troubled underclass.  We have third-world countries that are going to have to get their act together.  All this will take time.  But, just take that one thing out of the picture, and this is a great world to live in.
                However, that is really not the case.  Yes, America has had some very good years recently.  The truth, though, is that we quickly forget the horrors and sadness of yesterday.  We have forgotten the destruction of the federal office building in Oklahoma City, the AIDS crisis, the inflation and recessions of the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the 1960’s, the millions of people strung out on dope from the 1960’s to the present, the Cold War crises from the late 1940’s to about 1990, the Korean War, the poverty of the inner cities, the alarming increase in spousal and child abuse, the huge increase in divorce since the mid-twentieth century.  On and on we could go enumerating our many troubles in the last fifty years or so. 
Is there one “little picture” that can be removed so that life can become bearable and we can rebound with self-reliance, romance of progress, and striving for self-righteousness?  Are there not a million “little pictures” that need changing?  Is not this American religion really a self-deception?  Is self-reliance, the romance of progress, and self-righteousness really saving us? 
Do not misunderstand me.  There are times when we need a healthy dose of optimism.  When our nation experienced the ugly terrorism of 9/11/01, we needed to hear our President speak in confident terms and we needed to see our leaders demonstrate competence and resolve in dealing with the foreign and domestic crisis at hand.  That was not the time for us to deal with philosophy and theology. 
But, we also must recognize that the acts of terrorism are a part of a much bigger picture, and, when we turn to God, we are turning to One Who deals with that big picture.  To have a conversation with God, so to speak, about these matters, means we are going to have to ask just how God intends to deal with The Big Picture.   And to hear His answer, we may have to be willing to let go of a shallow optimism in order to grasp a much greater future.

I am through with my digression now, and I hope I have made some progress in convincing you that the human condition is in need of something more than self-reliance, romance of progress, and self-righteousness.  The Apostle Paul in the book of Romans hammered at this point.  In the first three chapters, he surveys all of humanity and finds that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”  (Romans 3:23).  He includes in this indictment his own people the Jews.  The Jews were followers of Moses and his Law.  However, Paul concludes that
…no one will be declared righteous in his [God’s] sight by observing the [Mosaic] law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
                                                                                                                                Romans 3:21
He examines this thesis in more detail in chapter 7.  I quote below a series of extracts from that chapter:
Is the law sin?  Certainly not!  Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law.  For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”  But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire…I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death….So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good…But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.  We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin…So I find this law at work:  When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin.
                                                                Romans 7:7-23 (paragraphing altered)
Paul is concluding that there is something so profoundly wrong with him that the Mosaic Law is unable to bring about complete righteousness within him.  Therefore, he cannot be made righteous within himself, by his own efforts.  In chapters 9 and 10, he discusses the Jews, his own people:
…Israel [the Jews], who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.  Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works [that is, good deeds]…For I testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.  Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own…
                                                                                                Romans 9:31-10:3
                Paul’s point, which I have already quoted, is that no one can become righteous through observing the Mosaic Law.  Since, I think most would agree, the Mosaic Law is the greatest of all statements of human righteousness, we could conclude that no program of human righteousness—that is, self-righteousness—will result in full and complete human righteousness, righteousness good enough to be pleasing to God.  The reason for this is not with the program, but with the material it works on.  I have already made the case that humanity is sinful by nature.  A program of righteousness, such as the Mosaic Law, appeals to human nature, which is incapable of responding adequately. 
                Thus, the Biblical approach to life is contrary to the religion of American optimism.  Self-reliance, the romance of progress, and self-righteousness have accomplished many great things, but they have not changed the reality of the human condition.  As great as they are and as helpful as they have been to create a fairly happy life for many people, we still must reject this culture of optimism and recognize that God needs to do something much more profound for the human race than the American culture, or any other human culture, can offer.
                With this dose of realism under our belts, we are ready to learn what God has done for us that has totally changed The Big Picture.  To learn about that, we shall study the life and work of Jesus Christ.

                I recognize that some of you are very familiar with Jesus and some are not.  So, I shall review the story of Jesus sufficiently so that we are all “on the same page.”
                The first understanding that we have of Jesus is that He had a miraculous conception.  I use the term “conception” rather than birth because His birth took place through the ordinary physiology by which all babies are born.  But the Bible teaches us that He was conceived in a miraculous way.  This is told about in two places in Scripture.  First, we have the encounter that Mary had with an angel:
…God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph….  The virgin’s name was Mary…. “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He well be great and will be called the Son of the Most High….”   “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
                                                                                                Luke 2:26-35
Then, we have the response of Mary’s fiancee, Joseph, and his visitation:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about:  His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit….[An] angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…. 
                                                                                                Matthew 1:18-21
                Thus, Jesus was conceived in Mary through the work of the Holy Spirit.  That brings up all sorts of questions, none of which can be answered, because Scripture gives us no answers.  For example, was this baby “haploid”—having only half the complement of chromosomes?  If this be so, then, did He lack the Y, or male, chromosome?  We have no idea, but my own thought is that He had a full set of chromosomes, including and X and Y, as with any other male.  Was this conception a result of (excuse the crude language) God copulating with a woman?  The Scripture does not imply that and the church has never understood that to be the case.  This simply is a miracle, totally without explanation.
                What is the significance of the birth?  The New Testament and the church has understood it to mean that Jesus was unique among all humans.  He was human, with all the characteristics of a created human being.  But He was also God. 
In the full development of the New Testament, an understanding of the Trinity develops.  The Trinity is another mystery that is beyond the scope of human language to understand.  The following is a brief summary of the understanding of the Trinity:
·         First, the teaching of the Trinity comes from reading the New Testament.  It is impossible to read the New Testament in a rational way without an understanding of the Trinity.
·         God is understood to be One.  There are not multiple gods that we worship.
·         Yet, it is also true that there are three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
·         These persons each function fully as a person:  with will, interest, the capacity to love and to act.
·         God is three in one way—with regard to personhood—but is one in another way—with regard to being God.
·         The second person of the Trinity is referred to as the Son and also as the Word (Greek Logos).
·         Jesus is understood to be the Son of God or the Word of God who was among us as a man, the son of Mary.
In John, we have a brief statement about the Word of God:
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 men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 
                                                                                                John 1:1-5
Then, a little further in the chapter, John says:  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  (John 1:14) 
                Thus, we have this remarkable event:  God has joined the human race.  He did not join us at our best.  He lived among us in obscurity in a troubled little corner of the Roman Empire.  Very little is told us of His maturation.  There is a brief incident that is related when Jesus was 12 years old, and then we meet him at about 30 years of age.  At that time, He entered a public ministry.  That ministry consisted mostly of teaching and healing.  He was able to heal people instantly.  There are numerous individual healings that are mentioned in Scripture, as well as indications that at times whole crowds of sick people were healed.  He also cast demons out of people, and on a few occasions He brought people back to life.  He did a few other supernatural feats.  He walked on water once, and He calmed a storm on the sea instantly.
                Though He possessed supernatural power, Jesus also is depicted as a man.  He ate and slept, had friends, walked from place to place, and generally lived as a finite human being.  He also developed enemies.  The religious establishment of the Jews were angry with Him because of His popularity among the common people and because He criticized their leadership.  Eventually, they plotted to kill Him.  They would use the Romans, who occupied the country.
                Late one night, Jesus took His disciples to a garden on a large hill east of Jerusalem.  He often went there to pray.  While He was praying, a group of Jewish Temple guards came and arrested Him.  He went through a trial with the Jewish leaders and with the Roman governor Pilate.  He then was taken outside the city and crucified.  Crucifixion was an especially cruel form of death by which the person is nailed to the cross and allowed to die by hemorrhage and suffocation from the weariness of supporting the torso. 
                So, not only did God join the human race.  He died our death.  The witness of Jesus is that He died for us.  For example, on the night of His arrest, at the supper which we call the Last Supper, when Jesus passed the wine around, He said:
Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
                                                                                                Matthew 26:27
The witness of the entire New Testament is consistent with this idea, that Jesus’ death was not a martyr’s death, but rather, a death on behalf of the sinful human race.  For example, Peter states
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
                                                                                                I Peter 3:18
In the book of Romans, Paul refers to Jesus’ death as “a sacrifice of atonement.”  (Romans 3:25)  John the Baptist, a prophet who ministered just prior to Jesus’ own ministry, called Jesus the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29; the author of John is the Apostle John, not the same as John the Baptist.) 
This  term, “Lamb of God,” refers to the Old Testament Jewish sacrifices, in which animals, such as sheep or cattle, were slaughtered as sacrifices to God.  In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, the understanding of the blood sacrifice is stated:
“Any [God is being quoted] Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood—I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people.  For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”
                                                                                                Leviticus 17:10-11
Hence, Jesus’ death on the cross is understood by Scripture to be a sacrificial death for our sins.  I quoted extensively in the previous section from Romans 7 to demonstrate the profound helplessness of the human condition.  In the next chapter, Paul addresses how Jesus has come to our aid through His death:
For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in sinful man[i], in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature [flesh] but according to the Spirit.
                                                                                                Romans 8:3-4
                After Jesus died, His body was taken from the cross and laid in a tomb.  It was sealed and guarded.  That was on Friday.  On Sunday morning, Jesus rose from the dead.  This is documented in several places in the New Testament.  Each of the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—describe how people went to His tomb and found it empty.  They also describe various appearances of Jesus to His disciples and friends.  The book of Acts also describes how Jesus kept appearing to people for 40 days after His death and rising.  Paul, in I Corinthians 15:5-8, lists five separate appearances of the risen Lord during that period.  At the end of the 40 days, Jesus went back to heaven (the Ascension), as witnessed by a group of His disciples (Acts 1:11).  After the Ascension, there are several reports of how people saw Jesus, including a special visitation to Paul
(I Corinthians 15:8 and elsewhere). 
                The nature of Jesus after He rose from the dead is quite different from how He lived as a man during His earthly ministry.  He could appear and disappear at will.  He could pass through locked doors.  He was recognizable, usually, but could prevent Himself from being recognized.  He could ascend back to heaven.  He is understood no
 longer to be subject to death, and to live in a new condition or new order of existence.  That is, He is no longer subject to THE PRESENT ORDER OF EXISTENCE OR THE WAY THINGS ARE.  We call this new orde[ii]r of existence the Resurrection. 
                In short, Jesus has won a victory over the human condition.  The Law of Sin and Death cannot control Him.  His death satisfied the sentence of death.  Hence, He was resurrected to enter into the full victory that He had won by His death.  Now, I shall develop this next statement in the next section, but I want to make the statement now in order to complete the story of what Jesus has accomplished.  So, not only has Jesus been resurrected into His full victory, but it is possible for us also to enter in that victory.  Jesus rose into our resurrection.  That is, He rose and entered into a new order of existence that is of the same nature that we can enjoy in the future.  Below, I have brought together the full work of Jesus.
·         He joined the human race.
·         He died our death.
·         He won a victory over the human condition.
·         He rose into our resurrection.

                To understand the last point, I must develop the concept of faith in Christ as the means of entering into Christ’s victory.

                So far, in this part, I have developed two concepts.  First, the ultimate issues of life are not gained through our own efforts.  To put it in straightforward terms, I should say that we cannot earn our way to heaven.  Second, Jesus Christ has won a great victory over the human condition.  Jesus has won a victory for me that I could not win myself. 
                To receive that victory, I must believe in Jesus.  That is as simple a way of stating the matter as I can think of.  I could modify it and go into great detail (and I shall embellish it), but I really won’t improve on that statement.  The following are some Scriptures that emphasize the need to believe (that is, have faith) in order to receive what God has for us:
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
                                                                                                John 1:12
For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
                                                                                                John 3:16
But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
                                                                                                John 20:31
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.                           
                                                                                                Acts 16:31
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
                                                                                                Romans 3:21
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
                                                                                                Romans 5:1
That if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
                                                                                                Romans 10:9
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 immediate reaction of many to this idea, that we receive Jesus’ victory by believing in Him, is that it is too easy.  Nothing in life is easy.  We have to work for—even fight and scratch for—everything that is good in this life.  But now someone comes along and says that the greatest thing in all of life is available simply by believing.  How can this be? 
                The most straightforward answer from Scripture is that Christ’s victory is from God and not from ourselves.  Throughout Scripture is the theme that God does things that are impossible for people.  And to do those things, God chooses unlikely persons and unlikely circumstances. 
                The best example of this is the case of Abraham.  Abraham was chosen by God to be the patriarch of a great nation, the Hebrews.  Yet, when God first chose Abraham (described in Genesis 12:1-3; he was then known as Abram), he was 75 years old and his wife, Sarah (then known as Sarai), was barren.  Moreover, she remained barren for the next 24 years.  During this time, God kept telling Abraham that he was going to be the Father of a great nation and that he would have a son.  Finally, Sarah conceived after 24 years and, then, after 25 years, she bore a son, Isaac.  One of Isaac’s sons was Jacob, and Jacob (later known as Israel) became the father of twelve sons who headed up the twelve tribes of Israel.  So, when Abraham and Sarah were far too old to have children, God gave them a son through whom God’s promises were fulfilled.  There could be no doubt to anyone observing the situation that this was something that God did and not what Abraham had done.
                Yet, through the story of Abraham, the Scripture emphasizes that Abraham believed that God was going to do what He said.  Oh, there were some weak moments, but, as Abraham received a word from God, he believed and trusted that God would perform His word.  This is the way the book of Hebrews describes Abraham’s faith:

By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.  And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
                                                                                                Hebrews 11:11-12
Notice that it is by faith that Abraham was enabled to become a father.  God was the one who promised, and God was the one who did the miracle, but it was Abraham (and Sarah) who responded to God’s promises, believing that God was able and willing to do what He said that He would do. 
                When we believe, we reverse the brokenness of the relationship between God and people.  The broken relationship is one that does not believe that God is good, but, instead believes that God is out to get us.  When we believe in Jesus, we believe that God loves us and will bring us into Christ’s victory.  We believe in the goodness of God.
                The object of our faith or belief is Jesus.  Our faith is in Jesus Christ.  We do not simply “believe in God.”  We do not “believe that dreams or wishes come true.”  We do not “believe in the power of belief.”  Our faith is quite specific in a very specific person, Jesus of Nazareth, the One described in the Bible. 
                Our initial faith may not be conscious of any of what I have said to this point.  Most people who come to faith have heard something about Jesus.  They may have heard the basics of His death on the cross.  They have also probably have had their need for God’s salvation (a term that I shall explain) explained to them.  Then, they have been told of the necessity of belief in Jesus.  Their response is to affirm their belief (for example, by walking to the front of a sanctuary).  They have believed, and that brings them into Christ’s victory.  The intellectual content of their belief may be limited, but they have believed and that is sufficient.
                Very likely, a person will grow in their understanding of faith as he or she continues in the Christian walk.  But the faith response, not an in-depth intellectual response, is what is called for.
                When we believe in Jesus, we acknowledge our own inadequacy.  We may not be conscious of that understanding, but it is implied when we believe in Jesus.  We are acknowledging that self-reliance or self-righteousness is not sufficient to resolve our human condition.  Many people tell a story of coming to faith in which they first come to the end of themselves.  They tell how they made all sorts of attempts to find happiness and power and none worked.  Then, when they had “bottomed out” and were totally without help, they heard the story of Jesus and trusted in Him and their life was transformed.  They reached a point of acknowledging their own inadequacy (and the inadequacy of all human solutions) and turned to faith in Christ.
                I have summarized what I have said about belief in Jesus below.

·         To receive that victory, I must believe in Jesus.
·         Christ’s victory is from God and not from myself.
·         The object of my faith or belief is Jesus.
·         When I believe in Jesus, I acknowledge my own inadequacy.
                In the next section, I shall expand what Christ’s victory means for us, now and in the future.

                So far, I have made three major points:
1.       The human condition is defined by the Law of Sin and Death.
2.       Christ has won a victory over the Law of Sin and Death.
3.       We enter into Christ’s victory by believing in Jesus.
In this section, I shall expand what that victory means for us.  In order to use more “Christian” language, I shall refer to that victory for us as salvation.
                Salvation has two major components—future and present.  And each of those components has negative and positive aspects.
                The future component of salvation:  The negative aspect of our future salvation is that we shall not be punished in the future judgment.  I have quoted the description of the future judgment previously.  Some that description follows:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it….And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Another book was opened, which is the book of life.  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. …The lake of fire is the second death.  If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
                                                                                                Revelation 20:11-15
The key point to notice is the book of life.  The most important basis for judgment and punishment in the lake of fire is whether one’s name is in the book of life.  From the full testimony of Scripture, one’s name is written in the book of life when one believes in Jesus.  The most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, makes the point that if anyone believes in Jesus, that person will not perish, which is understood to mean that the person will not suffer eternal judgment.  Salvation is salvation from future punishment.
                The positive aspect of our future salvation is that we shall enjoy the resurrection forever.  The positive aspect is complex in that it involves a great number of blessings.  I consider that resurrection is the best term to encompass all of our future blessings.  In the following discussion, I shall not debate the details of God’s future program, for indeed theologians debate constantly those details.  Instead, I want to list a few important points about our future.
1.       We shall be raised from the dead into a body that is like Jesus’ body.  This is detailed in two places, I Corinthians 15:50-58 and I Thessalonians 4:13-18.  When Christ returns, our buried bodies will come out of their graves.  They will be transformed into bodies no longer subject to the present order of existence.
2.       We shall be forever with the Lord.  The best description of this eternal state is found in chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation.  Jesus will be present for our eyes to see.  And, somehow, we shall even have a vision of the Father.  We shall enjoy an intimate relationship with the triune God forever, full of acceptance and joy.
3.       We shall enjoy a life of bliss.  We shall have good food and housing.  We shall never die or be sick or experience grief.
4.       God shall reverse our sadness.  We are told that God will “wipe every tear from their eyes.”  I would understand that to mean that God will somehow heal all of our sadness and heartache.
                The present component of our salvation:  The negative aspects are that we are forgiven of our sins and that we are delivered from certain consequences of the Law of Sin and Death.
                We are forgiven of our sins.  There are two ways that the Bible looks at this.  One is that God simply acts as if the sin never happened.  There is a picture of this in the book of Luke in the story that we call The Prodigal Son.  This is a story about a young man who takes his inheritance early and runs off to a foreign country.  There he squanders his money on pleasures and ends up in poverty.  He comes back to his father, acknowledging his fault and requesting only to be a servant in his father’s house:
The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the
 fatted calf and kill it.  Let’s feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
                                                                                Luke 15:21-24
                The other way that the Bible looks at forgiveness is through the word “justification.”  By this is meant that God considers us to be righteous, not because we have been righteous, but simply because we believe in Jesus.  I shall give two quotes from Romans that mention this process.  I have added the italics in the following quotations:
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
                                                                                                Romans 3:22-24
What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?  If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.  What does the Scripture say?  “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.  However to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
                                                                                Romans 4:1-5
                We are delivered from certain aspects of The Law of Sin and Death.  For one thing, we are relieved from a load of guilt.  Much of modern psychology has emphasized the negative consequences of guilt.  I shall not try to distinguish shame and guilt in my discussion.  Guilt is not necessarily a bad thing.  It is necessary that we be honest about our wrongdoing and take responsibility for our sins.  However, guilt in the absence of the hope of forgiveness is destructive.  It can create perfectionism, antisocial behaviors, or controlling personalities.  When our guilt is washed away, a great load is lifted off our shoulders.  We feel clean, relieved, and look to the future with optimism.
                Another consequence is the loss of the fear of death.  Some people who have not experienced salvation can face death with courage.  However, they are displaying courage in the face of danger.  That is, they have not lost the fear, they are coping with it.  That is noble, but God offers to us a genuine deliverance from the fear of death.  This is not a loss of our instinct for self-preservation.  That is something that God gives all persons (except when mental illness or severe cultural conditioning erases or damages it).  But, when we receive Christ’s victory, we no longer have the fear that we shall face the terror of the wrath of God.  This new attitude toward life brings us security and confidence that enables us to live more positively than before.
                The present component of our salvation:  The positive aspects of this include the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our life in the church, and the avenue of prayer.
                I shall not have adequate space to enumerate each of these positive aspects of salvation.  In brief, it is important to realize that God has equipped us with all that is necessary to live out Christ’s victory in this present order of existence.  Thus, although we live in a “fallen world”—a world that is governed by both the Creation of God and The Law of Sin and Death, we can enjoy the victory of Christ in the here and now.  We should recognize that we shall experience limitations, even failures.  We also must understand that suffering is going to come our way (see the chart on the causes of suffering in Part One), but we can experience God’s victory despite suffering and the destructive forces of this present order.
                First of all, God the Holy Spirit ministers to us.  This ministry is multifaceted.  I shall do my best to list some of the ministries of the Spirit, but I cannot be complete in this discussion.  First, the Holy Spirit is the agent who brings us to faith in Christ.  When we experience faith, we do not merely come to an intellectual awareness and make a decision.  First of all, the Holy Spirit makes the gospel fit our own personalities and life histories.  Somehow, the gospel of Jesus Christ makes sense and becomes personal for me.  Then (or simultaneous with the previous work), the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and our need for a Savior.  Again, this is personal, so that each person has a consciousness of need that is real and very consistent with his or her own internal consciousness.  Finally, somehow the conscious faith-decision is overseen by the Holy Spirit.
                Second, the Holy Spirit accomplishes in us the spiritual realities of salvation.  By this I mean that certain things happen when we are saved that cannot be accomplished “in the natural.”  For example, we are born again,[iii] we are baptized into the body of Christ,[iv]
we are washed clean by the blood of Jesus.[v]  We cannot observe any of these activities.  There is no church rite that can accomplish them.  They are done by the Holy Spirit.
                Third, the Holy Spirit applies the spiritual realities of salvation to our own personalities.[vi]  For example, we experience an assurance that God accepts and loves us as a child.[vii]  Over time, we grow in our awareness, both intellectually and emotionally, of our spiritual identity.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit. 
                Fourth, the Holy Spirit provides guidance for our lives.  Fifth, the Holy Spirit enables us to pray so that our prayers are heard by the Father.  I shall discuss these ministries in more detail later, along with the next ministry.  Sixth, Jesus can baptize us in the Holy Spirit so that we can function in a more powerful manner under the leading of the Holy Spirit.
                The second broad category of the positive aspects of salvation at this present time is our membership in the church.  Again, I shall expand this concept later.  Briefly, the church provides for us God-ordained leadership.  It provides a structure for our discipleship.  It gives us opportunity for service.  It surrounds us with human companionship and fellowship.  It fulfills God’s vision for us that we be social people, not isolated individuals.  It is essential for our walk with God.
                The third broad category of the positive aspects of salvation is the avenue of prayer.  Although this is really a work of the Holy Spirit, it is such an important part of our Christian life that it stands on its own.  Again, I shall comment on this later, but shall make a few comments now.  Prayer is the principle mechanism of our relationship with God.  Just as physical intimacy is an essential of the marital relationship (thus, it “consummates” the marriage), so prayer is an essential in our relationship with God.  Through prayer we nurture our relationship.  Prayer also is our means of communicating our needs and, thus, by prayer we articulate our faith in the goodness of God.  That is, by asking God for specifics in our lives, we are saying that we believe God loves us and wants the best for us.  Prayer also is important to our psychological well-being.  When we are distressed, worried, or angry, we can pray and reach a point of equilibrium. 
                In summary, we have, in the gift of salvation, a future in which Christ’s great victory will be ours forever.  We have also blessings that we enjoy in the present that bless us and enable us to live in the present order of existence.  I have reviewed this description in the accompanying outline.

                The future component: 
                                The negative aspect:  not punished in the judgment
                                The positive aspect:  the resurrection, which means…
                                                A body like Jesus’ body
                                                Forever with the Lord
                                                A life of bliss
                                                Reversal of all sadness
                The present component:
                                The negative aspects:
                                                Forgiveness of sins
                                                Release from the consequences of sin and death
                                The positive aspects:
                                                The work of the Holy Spirit
                                                The church

[iii] John 3:3-8
[iv] I Corinthians 12:13
[v] Revelation 7:14
[vi] John 16:14
[vii] Romans 8:15-16

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