A Matter of Life and Death

“Your money — or your life!”  That is an expression I had heard since I was a boy.  As most everybody knows, this is a line spoken by a holdup who wants you to hand over your money, or else he takes your life.  And if you don’t, the thief kills you — and he gets your money just the same!

In an increasingly wicked world which we live in (Matthew 24:12; 2 Timothy 3:1-7), people daily confront situations which are also increasingly matters of life and death:

  • A hungry person who could not lower himself in his own eyes by begging would take the risk of stealing from others and perhaps getting caught and punished — just so he could quiet his grumbling stomach and live another day.
  • A well-fed person who refuses to follow the “strait and narrow” in earning a living could risk getting caught in his nefarious ways and penalized, just so he could continue to enjoy a high life-style.
  • Recently in the local news, a man hanged himself after his farm crop had been destroyed by drought, and whatever remained had been eaten by rats.  Rather than facing bravely the reality of life, he chose to take his own life.
  • And haven’t we heard about super-rich businessmen who, because of bankruptcy and the prospect of living an empty and shameful life, leap from the top of a building to their death?
  • With ever-dwindling supplies of food and water necessary for life, people and nations will go to war — kill and steal — in order to survive!
  • And what about diseases — many of them unheard of generations ago — that are decimating large swatches of humanity?

When we come right down to it, our existence on our planet Earth is all a matter of life and death!  Daily — and every moment that we are awake — we face issues that will lead us to either life or death!  [See: The Next Chapter of History.”]

From the roots

Right from the beginning  of the human race, our first parents (Adam and Eve) were given by their Creator God the choice between life and death.  In the Garden of Eden God had placed the “tree of life” and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” — which was, in effect, the “tree of death” (Genesis 2:7-17).

Encouraged by Satan the devil (in the guise of a serpent; see:  Where Did the Devil Come From?), Mother Eve chose to believe the devil, who sold her the lie that she wouldn’t die if she ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:1-4, etc.).  [See: Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]  In her winsome way Eve got her husband Adam — who knew better (1 Timothy 1:14) — to also eat the forbidden fruit with her.  As a result they died as God had told them they would (Genesis 2:17; 5:5).  And because all their descendants followed in their choice to disobey God’s word, all human beings since — including all of us today — have rightly earned the death penalty.  The apostle Paul wrote:  “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered the world and death through sin, and thus, death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12; see also 3:23).

The issue of sin

Some people find talk about “sin” boring.  But if sin is something that’s a matter of life and death, we cannot approach the subject with a ho-hum, couldn’t-care-less attitude.  It is a matter that should be of grave concern to every person!

In Paul’s very familiar quote (Romans 6:23) we read:  “For the wages [consequence] of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Paul echoed what had long been written in Ezekiel 18:4, 20 — “The soul [man — compare with Genesis 2:7, KJV] who sins shall die.”

Most everybody talks about “sin” as something that is against some “norm” [what a person or a people consider “normal” or the right thing to do].  However, we find that individuals and groups have their own idea or definition of what really is, or constitutes, sin.  To one, for example, drinking any alcoholic beverage is sinful, while to another wine is an OK health drink.  So it goes with issues like dancing, watching movies, playing cards, drinking coffee and anything else caffeinated, etc., etc.  [See:  No Walls, No Ceiling? and The Great Wall.]

Is drinking alcoholic beverages a sin?

The incidence of alcoholism worldwide has become alarming enough for no less than the World Health Organization (WHO) to address the problem.  [See:  www.who.int/substance_abuse/expert_committee_alcohol/en/.]  Thus alcoholic beverages are considered in many societies and circles as a bane instead of a boon to human life.  Some religious groups even consider drinking wine and strong drink a sin, and the alcohol that they contain something of a devil.

What does the Bible say about drinking wine and strong drink?

Judges 9:13 positively describes wine — or new wine — as a drink that “cheers both God and men.”   Psalm 104:15 likewise says that wine “makes glad the heart of man.”  As a matter of fact, the Bible speaks abundantly of wine — even plenty of it — as a blessing from God (Genesis 27:28; Deuteronomy 7:13; 11:14; 12:17; 14:2, 26; 18:4; 33:28; Ecclesiastes 9:7; 10:19; Joel 2:24; 3:18; Amos 9:14).  When He met Abraham, the High Priest Melchizedek brought out bread and wine (Genesis 14:18).  The first miracle which Jesus performed was turning water into wine (John 2:3-10, etc.).  He used wine as a symbol of His shed blood — “the blood of the new covenant…for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28).  The apostle Paul counseled Timothy about the health benefit of taking a bit of wine for his stomach’s sake (1 Timothy 5:22).

In a word, the Bible affirms wine and other alcoholic drinks as good and a blessing.  That is, when they are taken in moderation.   What the Bible condemns is the abuse of alcohol.

Obviously drunkenness is a sin, for which drunkards are going to be shut out from the kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 6:10).  The apostle Peter lists among the “lusts of men” and a part of the “will of the Gentiles” [those who have not received God’s calling and God’s Spirit] “drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties” (1 Peter 4:2-3). God pronounces “Woe!” to the “drunkards of Ephraim” (Isaiah 28:1-3).

Paul wrote that God has given His people the Spirit of a “sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).  It is that sound mind in a true Christian that helps him to know when enough is enough so as not to get drunk.  Galatians 5:23 says that one of the aspects of the “fruit of the Spirit” is “self-control” (“temperance,” KJV).  This doesn’t mean that God’s people don’t ever get drunk.  Our father Noah got drunk after he had successfully grown  grapes for wine after the Flood (Genesis 9:20-21).  But, like Christians who sin, Noah must have repented of his drunkenness later, asked for God’s forgiveness, and remained faithful to God till the end of his days (1 John 1:8-2:2).  Noah is listed among the faithful and righteous who will be in God’s kingdom (Ezekiel 14:14, 20; Hebrews 11:7).

On the other hand, it is not a sin not to drink wine and other alcoholic drinks.  God has nowhere commanded that we must drink wine or else we sin!  In fact, there was a group of people, called “Rechabites,” whom God commended for having stuck to their forefather’s instruction, among others,  for them not to drink wine or even eat grapes or raisins (see story in Jeremiah  35:2-14).  By contrast, God condemned the children of Israel for having forsaken His commandments (which are perfect, Psalm 19:7-9), whereas the Rechabites had kept their father’s human law forbidding them to drink wine or eat grapes and raisins, which God does not forbid, except for Nazirites for a time (Numbers 6:1-21). 

In any case, whether to drink wine or not should not become a divisive issue.  After all, as Paul said, “…the kingdom of God is not [or does not consist in] eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Paul encourages Christians to “pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” — and that by, among others, not drinking wine in the presence of a weaker Christian if it is going to cause the latter to stumble (Verses 19-21).

In the case of other things that some people consider sinful while others consider quite lawful, we need to check the word of God as written in the Holy Bible.  If the Bible does not forbid a thing or an act, then it is not a sin.  However, when in doubt — even after searching the Scriptures for the truth — it is better to refrain from doing something in the presence of another person whose conscience dictates  that something to be not right, in order to keep that person’s conscience from being defiled (Romans 14:22-23; 1 Corinthians 8:10-12).

Of far greater consequence, however, is getting “drunk” with the “wine” or doctrine of false and deceitful religion!  That we should definitely keep away from — or come out of!  [See: Drunk With Strange Wine.]

It shouldn’t be a surprise why people have all sorts of ideas or concepts about what sin is.  This state of affairs is merely the consequence of every person having believed as Mother Eve believed when she ate the forbidden fruit.  Recall that Satan (the “old serpent,” Revelation 12:9) told her that if she ate that fruit, it would make her become “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).  What Satan meant was that she could then decide for herself what is good and what is evil.   [See:  Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]

Mankind has since found itself as the children of Israel found themselves, at some stage in their national history, when they lived without a king [in their case, a righteous, God-appointed judge]:  “…everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).  And that is because man has taken to himself the prerogative that is God’s alone:  to decide, ultimately, what is good and what is evil.  [See:  The Divine Prerogatives.]

Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 doubly warn:  “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”

God’s word and law the basis of sin

Many “evangelical” people — those who believe that the “evangel” [from the Greek which means “good news”] is a message of Jesus Christ freeing true believers from the “bondage” of God’s law — shoot themselves in the foot by removing the very basis of why mankind needs a Savior from sin.

Paul wrote:  “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56).  Paul put it another way:  “For until the law [as codified by Moses] sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed where there is no law” (Romans 5:13).  In Verse 14 Paul clarifies that, although God had not had His law codified by Moses, Adam committed a transgression or sin by disobeying God’s instruction (or command) not to eat the forbidden fruit.

The “strength” (or “sting,” if you please) of sin is the law.  How?  Again Paul wrote:  “What shall we say then?  Is the law sin?  Certainly not!  On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law.  For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet…’  For apart from the law sin is dead [has no strength or sting!] (Romans 7:7, 8; 3:20).  Again, in Romans 4:15, Paul writes:  “…for where there is no law there is no transgression.”

1 John 3:4 (particularly the KJV) says, “Whoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law.”  Which law?  Why, God’s law as written in God’s word, the Bible, of course!

Many who profess belief in Jesus say that He came to do away with the law of God.  If that is so, what now is to tell man what sin is?  If, as they say, the law of God has been done away with, then there is nothing more to transgress.  And thus there would be No Such Thing as Sin?”  And if there’s no more “sin” to commit, why would there even be a need for Jesus to be our Savior from sin?  Jesus’ command, to forgiven sinners, to “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11; 5:14) would thus be meaningless and irrelevant.

But Jesus said:  “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill [or make full]” (Matthew 5:17). [See:  Freed From Bondage , Moses and Jesus — Are They Contraries? The Law of Christ,  and Transgressions Under the First Covenant.]

The great commandments

When asked by a lawyer what is the great commandment in God’s law, Jesus replied:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).  Many evangelicals have thus come to conclude that this is all we need to do in order to have a right relationship with God.  And what Jesus called “the second” great commandment  [“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”] is all we need to follow in how we relate  rightly with our fellow-human beings.

How love God and neighbor?

Can we love God and our neighbor apart from the law of God — and obeying it?  We need not speculate on the truth of the matter!  Jesus Himself tells us how to love God!

In John 14:15 Jesus said,  “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”  Further, in Verse 21, He continues:  “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.  And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”  [See also:  1 John 5:2-5.]  Is it any wonder that people who do not keep God’s commandments do not really really love and thus know The True Christ?  As Jesus had long prophesied about our end-times, many have instead believed in false “Christs” (Matthew 24:5, 24).

What are the commandments of Jesus?  Certainly His instructions as recorded in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are included.  But if we understood who Jesus really was — and is — we would see that Jesus’ commandments include the commandments He gave — as the God of the Old Testament — to His people Israel.   [See:  Peter Knew “The Holy One,” The Law of ChristA Great Omission in Doing the “Great Commission,” Transgressions Under the First Covenant, Barking up the Wrong TreeMoses and Jesus — Are They Contraries?  and Law Added to Law Transgressed.]

Some believe that if one simply loves one’s neighbor (in the sense of feeling “loving” and doing “good” and not “harm” to him — however one defines “love,” “good,” and “harm”), one has already fulfilled the law of God.  This is a spin on Romans 13:6-10 that some have used  to prove — wrongly, as we shall see — that a Christian who loves his neighbor as himself in this way does not need to observe God’s law.

In this same passage Paul himself shows how one loves one’s neighbor:  by obeying God’s commandments not to commit adultery, not to murder, not to steal, not to bear false witness (or to lie), not to covet and, Paul adds, “any other commandment” (Verse 9).  The apostle John supports this:  “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.  And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2-3).

Referring to the two great commandments to love God and neighbor, Jesus said:  “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).  In other words, all the Old Testament instructions are about the “nitty-gritties” of how to love God and to love our neighbor.  The New Testament expands on how to love God and neighbor, not just in the letter or exterior but from the heart, made possible through the gift of God’s Spirit.  As Paul said, “…the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who [or that] was given to us” (Romans 5:5).  [See:  God’s Spirit and Obedience,  The Higher Law of the Spirit,  and The Trinity Doctrine Reconsidered.]

God’s love for sinful mankind

Again, as Paul wrote, all human beings [except Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15] have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  And the sure consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  That is not the ordinary death that every individual human being has to go through at some point (Hebrews 9:27) but the ultimate death in the “lake of fire” — the second death for those unrepentant wicked, whose names are not found in The Book of Life (Revelation 20: 13-15; 21:8).  But, as John 3:16 famously assures:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish [or die] but have everlasting life.” God gave His Son Jesus to be the spotless, sinless “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Jesus has “redeemed” sinful mankind through His shed blood — to “buy back” sinners from the sure clutches of death (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18; Romans 3:24-25; Galatians 3:13; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:14-15).   Put another way, Jesus has “ransomed” sinners from death (Mark 10:45; 1 Timothy 2:6) through His shed blood.  [See: The Ransomed of the LORD.] And He rose from the dead in order to complete our atonement (or forgiveness) for sin (1 Corinthians 15:17).  [See:  Two Goats Together.]

From death to life

Jesus said:  “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me [God the Father] has everlasting life [as “down payment” through the gift of God’s Spirit (Ephesians 1:14), the “full payment” to be given on “the day of redemption” (4:30) at Christ’s return to give everlasting life to His faithful saints through a resurrection or change to immortality  (1 Corinthians 15:50-55; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)] , and shall not come into judgment [or condemnation to the death sentence] but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).

Paul said that there is an “order” or sequence in that resurrection or change to immortality.  For now, of all who have partaken of the human/fleshly nature, Jesus Christ has been the first, so far, to have received immortality.  “But each one in his own order:  Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:22).  “Those who are Christ’s” are the “elect” of God — those whom God has chosen or appointed to salvation in this age, who are also called the “firstfruits” or “firstborn” of God.  They are those who have truly received the Spirit of Christ (Romans  8:4-11, 23) in this present age.   [See: Predestination and This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation.]

For those who are now a part of God’s “elect” it is absolutely vital that they make their election sure (2 Peter 1:10).  It is a matter of life and death!  To help you ensure that Jesus will recognize you at His return and welcome you into the kingdom of His Father, see:  I Never Knew You!”

Money and life

God is no thief or tyrant who requires of us our money — or our life.  In the marvelous prophecy of Isaiah, God invites all who have no money: “Ho!  Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat.  Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?  Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance.  Incline your ear, and come to Me.  Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you — the sure mercies of David” (Isaiah 55:1-3).

The “waters” which Isaiah speaks of here refer to the Spirit of God, which He freely gives to those He has chosen to show His mercy to (Romans 9:14-18).  Echoing Isaiah 55, Jesus cried out to the Jews on the great day of their feast:  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).  John continues his narration:  “”But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom [or that] those believing in Him would receive…” (Verse 39).

As Jesus promised:  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).  The “righteousness” Jesus mentions here is the same “righteousness” which Paul taught (as he was taught personally by Jesus, Galatians 1:11-12): “righteousness by faith” — the same righteousness imputed by God to Abraham when he believed God (Romans 3:21-26; 4:1-8).  This is that righteousness which, through faith in Jesus’ death (and resurrection) to forgive us of our sins, we are given and receive, thereby cleansing us of sin that otherwise holds us captive to death.  Having been cleansed of sin, and receiving God’s power to live a righteous life through the Holy Spirit, we are then enabled to pursue “righteousness” in the sense that the psalmist wrote:  “…all Your commandments are righteousness” (Psalm 119:172).  [See:  God’s Spirit and Obedience, The Higher Law of the Spirit, and Saved for Good Works.]

May the “waters” — the contents — of this website (www.pool-of-siloam.com) freely given also be a place where you can drink of God’s Spirit through His Holy Word!  We trust that the words here have the power to bring salvation, and everlasting life, to those who believe (Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:15; John 6:63; James 1:21; Romans 10:13-17; Ephesians 1:13).  These are also words that will judge the hearts of men in God’s own time (John 12:48; Revelation 20:12).   God’s word about the fate of the unrepentant wicked (Revelation 21:8; 22:15)  is true and will happen! [See: Why Is the “Unpardonable Sin” Unpardonable?]

Thus, it is important that those who want to be right with God do not take His Word lightly but rather fear so as not to distort or misrepresent it:  “To this one will I look, on him who is poor [humble] and of a contrite spirit [repentant, willing to admit sin and error], and who trembles at My word ” (Isaiah 66:2).

Revelation 22:22 promises unmistakably:  “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates of the city [the “New Jerusalem”].  Like the earthly counterpart of that spiritual “tree of life,”  those who partake of its fruit will live forever (Genesis 3:22).

As the God of Israel commanded His people:  “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).  Through the prophet Ezekiel, God also tells us:  “Cast away from you all your transgressions [disobedience to God’s law] and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will you die, O house of Israel” (Ezekiel 18:31; this applies to both Israel and Gentiles, Romans 2:5-11)?

The matter of life and death is your choice!  May you choose life, not death!

 

Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.
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