Answers from Heaven
Section 2 - Goals (Advanced)
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This second section of the Answers from Heaven Bible Study series deals with the subject of "Goals." It talks about the purpose of the Christian life, and the balance between "works" and "faith." In some Christian groups, the focus is all on what an individual does outwardly, the works of a Christian. In other groups, the actions that Christians perform are considered unimportant - all that matters is what they claim to accept as true.
The Scriptures, by contrast to both, present a balanced picture of belief and actions. In one place it is written, "Yea, a man may say, ‘Thou hast faith, and I have works.' Shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works." (James 2:18) In another it is written, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1)
In other words, many may claim to have the true, Biblical faith, but those that actually have it will be able to demonstrate that faith by means of their actions. It is the faith that justifies us before the Heavenly Father, not the works; however, the faith that is true will be such that one may "show" it openly through the actions that spring forth naturally from that justified spirit.
Ultimately, the Christian life is one that is justified by faith - that is, accepted by God because of his beliefs - and then sanctified (made complete in that faith) by a life of faithful obedience to His instructions, which consists of consistently righteous acts. The goals of a Christian all reflect this reality, and look ever forward to the results of spiritual growth.
Question 1: Who inherits Everlasting Life?
Bible Verses: John 10:7-9, Ephesians 2:8, Romans 10:9-10, Psalm 15:1-5, James 2:20-22, Romans 6:22, Isaiah 56:1
Notes: Salvation is through Yahshua the Messiah, Jesus Christ, alone. By believing in Him, we receive His grace, His favor, and the Holy Spirit. Many people leave it at that; however, as Romans 10 says, we are saved through faith from our hearts, and that belief in our hearts leads to righteousness, to a state of being "right" in the eyes of our Heavenly Father. One who is "right" in God's eyes will do right things, leading to the kind of life described in Psalm 15.
Some of the New Testament apostles wrote about the importance of faith, and others wrote more about the importance of works - each responding to circumstances that arose in the early Church. Some Bible students, due to a misunderstanding of this fact, have concluded that the apostles Paul and James disagreed to some extent about the role of these two ideas in the Christian life. James himself makes it clear, however, that while we are saved through faith, the kind of faith in Christ that is genuine - that truly saves - is the kind that produces works for the purification of the individual. Such an individual is "freed from sin," and lives a life that both Heaven and earth may admire. Thus, there is no true contradiction.
Psalm 15 gives us the "profile,' as it were, of the redeemed. Although it is an Old Testament verse, true Bible students know that the principles of holiness are not specific to either covenant. What is "good" in the Old Covenant is still "good" in the New; therefore, while some practices are not appropriate for modern society or the way that government is organized, (such as the stoning to death of adulterers) the reason why the older laws were first established continues to inform us of the characteristics of the righteous.
Righteous people, by definition, do righteous deeds, and the Psalm referenced here tells us that those who inherit everlasting life, because of their faith in Yahshua, walk uprightly, speak the truth, are earnest in their speech, avoid the wicked, follow through with their commitments, and are kind and just to all. The goal of the Christian, therefore, is primarily to mature into a character that perfectly reflects these principles, as exemplified in the life of Christ Himself.
Question 2: Does God give us instructions for a happy life on earth?
Bible Verses: Psalm 144:15, John 13:13-17, Rom 14:22, 2Corinthians 1:12, 1Timothy 1:5, Psalm 89:15-16
Notes: The One who created us is supremely interested in our happiness. Our Heavenly Father is described as Love, (1John 4:8) and everything He originally made, before the entrance of sin, was "very good." (Genesis 1:31) As long as sin exists in the universe humanity suffers; however, God has neither abandoned His creatures nor His original intention that everything should be "very good."
The Scriptures tell us that we may come into harmony with the plans and intentions of our Father, and that service to God makes men happy with a lasting joy. The things of this world may provide temporary pleasures, upon which the Enemy of souls desires to fix our attention. However, earthly pleasures do nothing to purify the character or cleanse the conscience, which are the very attributes of an individual that possesses a joyful testimony.
With so many people doubting that God's instructions continue to be relevant in the modern world, the simple joy that the faithful Christian life provides becomes an increasingly important factor in determining our goals. After all, a happy Christian makes for an extremely powerful witness to the power of the Gospel.
Question 3: What is the "Law of God?"
Bible Verses: Exodus 24:12, Deuteronomy 31:26, Psalm 19:7, Romans 13:10, 1Timothy 1:8, James 1:25, 1 John 3:4, Haggai 1:1-3, Isaiah 1:13-15, Hosea 1:1-3
Notes: The word "Law" is used in a few different ways in the Bible, and in many contexts it refers to the 10 Commandments. These were first given in written form to Moses, although those who were faithful to God knew about these instructions long before they were provided as a lasting record on tablets of stone (e.g. Joseph's description of adultery as "sin" in Genesis 39:9).
The "Law" may also refer to the instructions given specifically to Israel regarding the system of sacrifices and national rituals designed to keep God's chosen people separate from the other, pagan societies. These laws were written on parchment, and placed in the side of the ark along with the Decalogue.
In a spiritual sense, the Law represents our Father's will for His people. It reflects the principles of His divine kingdom, and is therefore an expression of His character through human actions. The applicable law for any given generation amounts to a perfect plan for our lives, to draw us close to Him, and to make us similar to Him in judgment and in Spirit. The commandments may be summed up in the idea of "love," which does not replace the instructions, but does explain them.
An understanding of the Law allows us to apply and use it "lawfully," properly, so that it converts the soul, provides us with true liberty, and shines light on what our goals ought to be. The Law reveals both the things we should avoid (i.e. sin) and the things we should eagerly seek.
One point of interest for the modern Bible student involves the relationship between prophets and the Law. Prophets often arise when God's Law is being ignored, or violated, by His professed people. We find Haggai speaking out about the neglect of Yahweh's Temple. We see Isaiah declaring judgment on those who follow the outward forms of the Law, but are inwardly corrupt. Hosea was instructed by the Lord to marry a prostitute as a sign of Israel's infidelity.
Some have leveled criticism against those who follow the Seventh-day Adventist faith because the name and the practices, they say, focus too much on the Sabbath commandment. Adventists are accused of either worshipping only on Saturdays, or of holding the day itself as some kind of an idol. Yet in this, Adventism merely follows the pattern seen above of the Biblical prophets. All of God's Law, every article of it, is of equal importance. As it stands, most modern Christians would agree on the continued importance of nine of the Ten Commandments, excepting only the Sabbath. Adventists, therefore, have been given a name and a ministry designed to draw attention to the neglected Fourth Commandment, and thus to the overall importance, and equal significance, of the entirety of the Law. As Christ said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Mathew 4:4)
Question 4: What is the Gospel?
Bible Verses: Luke 4:18-19, Galatians 1:11-12, 2Timothy 1:8-10, 1Corinthians 15:20-23, John 11:25-26, John 3:14-17, Revelation 14:1-12
Notes: The Gospel is literally the "Good News." It is the good news about the God who created the universe, and for all of us who live within it. Because of sin, the people of the world lived in spiritual darkness, neither knowing nor caring about the Creator, and thus becoming subject to the power of death. In the course of time, the Son of God, Yahshua the Messiah, appeared to reveal to mankind who the Father truly is. By His life of obedience to God's Law, by His sacrifice through which He purged away our rebellion and transgression, and by His resurrection as proof of everlasting life, the Gospel was revealed to the world. The experience of Yahshua is one that stands as a pattern that all humans may follow.
It is important to note, however, that while the resurrection is the crowning act of the Gospel, it is not actually the Gospel itself, but rather its brightest signpost. The Good News is not that a Man - however holy, and One in whom God Himself is represented fully - was brought back to life, but rather that God loves the world and its people. Because of that love, the Son of God ministered to us, gave His life for us, and was raised as a promise to us of the defeat of sin and death.
The Gospel is about the character of our Heavenly Father, teaching us that He is worthy of our gratitude, love, and joyful service.
Looking at that last reference in the list of Bible verses provided for this question, many might be surprised to see the Gospel mentioned in the Book of Revelation. And yet, Revelation's symbolic visions provide one of the clearest and most detailed explanations of what the Good News about God actually is. The saving message is divided into three portions, each given to a separate messenger, and designed to gather a group of people from the earth, called the "144,000," that are perfectly faithful to Christ.
The message that prepares such a people is that first, God's judgment is real, and fast-approaching. Many have said that Christianity, and religion in general, is a dying phenomenon. Mankind's memory in this regard is very short, however, and this first message points to the need for lives lived in harmony with God's Law, and goals that correspond to His principles. Second, the Gospel indicates a purity of thought and belief. "Babylon is fallen," declares the second angel of the Gospel, signifying an end to confusion and darkness.
Finally, the third angel of Revelation tells us to beware the principles and forces of Satan as they are revealed through the governments and leaders of the world. The "beast," Satan's power as expressed in human agencies, sets up religious "tests," and all those who would be faithful to the Almighty will incur the wrath of those whose kingdoms are of this world.
Question 5: How do we define "Sin" and "Evil?"
Bible Verses: 1 John 3:4, 2 Kings 10:31, Romans 7:7, Deuteronomy 30:15-20, 2 Kings 17:13, Mark 7:21-23, Deuteronomy 5:29, Galatians 3:19
Notes: There are many contexts in which we may use the words "evil" and "sin." Biblically, however, they are given a very clear definition. Without God's Law, sin cannot be defined, and evil cannot be distinguished effectively from goodness. The Law of God, and the principles upon which It is built, teach humanity what righteousness is, and there can be no consistent, objective, understanding of good and evil without such a Law.
Even those who are not religious must maintain an understanding of "good" that is compatible, at least mostly compatible, with Judeo-Christian teachings, and must act according to that understanding otherwise society would quickly take notice of these individuals and remove them for its own safety. While some have claimed that "morality" is separate from religion, the truth is that they cannot reasonably be separated from each other.
For the Bible believer, the matter is clear. Both the Old and New Testaments agree that "sin" is a rejection of God's will as revealed in His Law and other instructions to mankind. From a spiritual perspective, it is not that "breaking a rule" is wrong simply because a rule is broken. Instead, the Bible teaches that there is divine reasoning behind the Laws of God; they are given to us because they outline what is best for us and others. Since that is the case, rebelling against the Law means that one is choosing not to do what is best, and such a person reveals that he or she is not in harmony with Agape-love, that perfect, divine love that God has for us, and desires for us to have for others. It is the refusal to act according to the principles of love that is sin, and the actions that spring from this choice are evil actions.
To reinforce the ideas already stated, Galatians 3:19 tells us that the Law was "added because of transgressions." Many have said, "The Law was given to Moses for the Israelites, because John 1:17 says plainly, ‘For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.'"
We must be clear, however, on what the Scriptures mean when they say "given by Moses." It is obvious that transgressions took place before Moses. In fact, when Joseph was tempted by His Egyptian master's wife, he said of adultery, "how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9) Likewise, the Israelites were instructed to gather manna on every day of the week, and to rest on the Sabbath, "that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my Law, or no," (Exodus 16:4) four chapters before the Decalogue was given to Moses.
The Law, therefore, pre-existed the stone tablets, thus "sin" could be defined as early as the third chapter of Genesis, even though the Law was not written down in visible form until Exodus 20. Those who wish to be in harmony with God's will must understand that His Law was never intended to be limited to Israel; it was given to Israel so that they might teach the other nations, (Micah 4:2) so that all of mankind would turn from sin to righteousness, would avoid evil, and become worshippers of the One true God.
Question 6: What specific role does faith have in the Christian life?
Bible Verses: Romans 1:16-17, Luke 17:19, Acts 6:8, Romans 3:28, 2 Corinthians 5:7, Galatians 2:20, Galatians 3:26, Ephesians 6:16, Hebrews 11:6, James 2:17, James 2:24, 2 Timothy 3:15
Notes: Faith, which is trust in God and a firm expectation of the fulfillment of His promises, is absolutely necessary to the Christian life. Through our faith, God blesses us with health, with success in spiritual endeavors, and with courage to face conflicts and opposition.
Faith is the sole justifier of man before God; if one truly believes in Him, that person is declared to be "just," regardless of what his actions and beliefs have been. In this sense, Christianity is a religion of faith and not works. Once that faith is grasped, however, it takes root in the heart and produces a life of righteousness. Some have claimed that James 2:24, which says that there is no profit to faith without works, contradicts Paul's statement that "a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law." (Romans 3:28)
These two writers, however, are talking about different things. In Romans, Paul is explaining how someone becomes a convert. He says that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23) and therefore if our standing before God depended on our acts, all would be condemned. By faith, however, and regardless of our actions, God accepts us as His children.
James is speaking about the practical realities of Christian life, of the way that one who has become a Christian conducts himself or herself after entering the born-again experience. If one declares the faith of Jesus, he is accepted despite his works. If, however, that faith does nothing to transform the life, turning the individual away from sin, then the evidence does not match the testimony, and the claims of faith are revealed to be false. This leaves us with a common idea that faith justifies, and works reveal the truth of that justification. The Apostle John confirms this, saying, "Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous [...] whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God." (1 John 3:7, 10) Simply put, faith both saves and motivates, therefore - because of this - works reveal the character and faith of the individual that commits them.
Question 7: What specific role do works have in the Christian life?
Bible Verses: Matthew 5:16, James 2:18, James 2:24, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Matthew 16:27, Revelation 20:12-13, James 1:27
Notes: Justification is the result of accepting the Gospel. Good works are the result of living the Gospel.
As discussed above, works reveal faith. Some say that works are unimportant. This is a misunderstanding of the Gospel message. Works have no place in saving us; salvation is a gift of God. However, those who are saved will do good works because they have not only been saved physically from Hell, but they have been saved spiritually, from the mind rooted in selfishness and rebellion. It is by faith that we are saved, and those who have received the gift of grace display righteous works - an essential indicator of the quality of that faith.
John tells us of God's Law, "His commandments are not grievous." (1 John 5:3) It is a joy for those who are saved to act righteously. Only those who do not have a love for God's Law find His "rules" to be restrictive. God instructs us not to steal, not to kill, to respect our parents, to avoid idolatry in all its forms, to remember the day that He has blessed for our spiritual growth, and so on. In doing these things joyfully, we reveal that the faith we claim is a living, active faith, one that transforms us and prepares us for everlasting life with the Father and Son.
As proof that God has His people's best interest at heart, one of the unique instructions He has given to mankind is that they cease from ordinary work for a period of time. The body and mind are to rest, to put away labor, so that our health and spiritual sensitivity are preserved and enhanced. This "ceasing" from work is translated into the English word "Sabbath," and ironically, those who follow the commandment to not work are often considered to be works-oriented. Any rule can, of course, become the focus of too much attention, but if the reasons why God gave His instructions are understood, then we may joyfully obey. As Yahshua said to His disciples, "Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." (John 15:15) We are invited to understand the divine reasoning behind our Father's commandments. This understanding will expand our faith and powerfully motivate our works.
Question 8: How can we know that we have true faith?
Bible Verses: 1 John 2:3, 1 John 3:14, 1 John 3:18-19, 1 John 3:9, John 7:17, James 1:26, Hosea 6:3
Notes: The Book of 1 John is written almost exclusively to instruct the Church in being able to distinguish true faith from falsehood.
True faith leads to a pure life that pleases God. True faith purifies sin from the heart, and creates in us a deep love of righteousness and our fellow human beings. Many will say they have "love," but John writes that the love that comes from genuine faith will be expressed "in deeds and truth," not only in declarations and assurances.
The Savior said that those who have a willingness to do God's pleasure will know the truth of doctrine. Faith cannot be separated into some theoretical idea that has nothing to do with the movements of our mouths and hands. In fact, the apostle James tells us that those who claim to be faithful to God, but cannot control their words, are self-deceived, and their religion is false.
The Bible uses "rain" as a symbol of humanity being inspired by God's Holy Spirit. Hosea 6:3 indicates that there are various times when the "rain" falls on mankind, and the work of Heaven progresses rapidly. The prophet tells us that if we "follow on to know," or if we learn God's will, we experience the blessing of holding the true faith and letting Him work through us. In so doing we will receive an outpouring of the Spirit, and in this generation, as the prophet Joel foresaw, great things will be accomplished. (Joel 2:27-28)
Question 9: How do we know what kinds of "works" will please God?
Bible Verses: Hebrews 11:6, 1 Corinthians 14:40, Philippians 2:3, Philippians 2:14-15, Galatians 5:22-23, Proverbs 21:8, James 4:17, Ephesians 4:11-12, John 14:21, Romans 13:8-9
Notes: The works that are pleasing to God are not necessarily those that have a "successful" outcome, but rather those that are done in faith, with a spirit of love, and with His Law and principles in mind. When our motives are right and our understanding of God's character is sound, then our works will be righteous.
Those who are new to the faith may ask the more experienced Christians for advice, for this is why we have apostles, teachers, and so on; but we must also be willing to step forward boldly into new tasks and projects, trusting that the Holy Spirit is guiding each of us to accomplish great things for the Lord.
The teaching of Yahshua Himself was that obedience to His commandments was an indication of love for both Him and His Father. The "work" of the Christian is therefore to come into harmony with the Law of God. The Son's commandment was to honor the Father's commandments, (Matthew 5:17-19) and when speaking of the Law in Romans 13, Paul quotes from the Decalogue: "Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness..."
Some have pointed out that Paul does not recount all ten in that particular list, but concludes by simply saying, "if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." As discussed in an earlier section, it is true that all ten are "comprehended" by understanding that the Law's basis is love for God and our neighbor; however, this does not invalidate the individual importance of each. While Paul does not give a comprehensive list in that place, the New Testament does, indeed, identify each by name, calling them "commandments," often after Yahshua's death, (e.g., Luke 23:56) indicating that each one continues to have an important place in the life of the Christian.
The works that please God are those that demonstrate His principles both inwardly and outwardly, showing kindness to others, and that reveal a heart in harmony with His everlasting Law. A Christian's goals will always correspond with these ideas.
Question 10: What does the Old Testament tell us about the goal of a Christian life?
Bible Verses: Exodus 23:25, Deuteronomy 6:5, Deuteronomy 11:13-15, Ecclesiastes 12:13, Psalm 100:2, Psalm 89:27-33
Notes: The Old Testament is a record of the Almighty's dealings with Israel, the Nation of His chosen People, and how He instructed them in righteousness while keeping them from the dangerous paganism of surrounding nations. The goals a Christian life likewise develop our understanding of Biblical righteousness, and avoid the corruption of secular principles that counteract the divine will.
Of paramount importance in the Old Testament was the understanding that Israel was Yahweh's own People, and as such their love for Him, their service to Him, and their obedience to His teachings, were vitally important for their success and survival as a nation.
In this generation, when those who believe in the Messiah are grafted into the spiritual nation of Israel regardless of race or ethnicity, (1Corinthians 10:18, Romans 11:7-23, Ephesians 2:11-13) the same principle applies. The Goal of the follower of Christ is to serve God, and to keep His commandments. The Old Testament predicted a time when the Firstborn Son of God would have "children," and they are likewise blessed by walking in the divine Law, and observing the holy commandments in service to the Creator.
Question 11: What does the New Testament tell us about the goal of a Christian life?
Bible Verses: Mark 12:29-31, John 14:15, 1 John 5:2, Matthew 16:24, Mark 16:15
Notes: The Covenant between God and mankind has changed since the days of the Old Testament, but the Law on which these Covenants are based is eternal and consistent. Mankind's goals have likewise remained the same; we are to love our Heavenly Father and serve Him.
Some have said that "God's commandments" in the Old Testament and "Jesus' Commandments" in the New are separate; however, John speaks of both in exactly the same way, and Christians are told to keep "the commandments of God" and the commandments of the Savior; no distinction is made between the two at all.
Similarly, some have said that the Old Testament is about the Law, while the New Testament is about Grace. This is completely incorrect, as the Old speaks of Grace and Law, while the New speaks of Grace and Law just as freely.
The goal of Yahweh's dealings with mankind, regardless of the time of reference, is an individual who has accepted Yahweh as his God, received salvation from His hand, and thereafter lives to serve Him in all things.
After the appearance of the Son, service to Yahweh has included telling others about His Cross, so that they may come to love and serve Him just as we do.
Question 12: What does Yahshua want us to do with our lives once He has saved us?
Bible Verses: Mark 16:15, Luke 6:31, Luke 10:30-37, Matthew 10:8
Note: The Redeemer Himself has much to say about the specifics of the Christian life. Those who would follow Him are tasked with, as mentioned in Question 11, teaching the Gospel to the world. There are some particulars beyond this, however, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, and living a life that confirms the glory and power of the Father in our lives.
The principle behind the words and actions of the Christian is often called the "Golden Rule," as put forth in Luke 6:31. As we would like to be treated, so we ought to treat others. This does not mean we should support people in sinful activities simply because this makes them happy temporarily, but we should - in the spirit of love - commit to doing what is absolutely best for those with whom we share our time. This, in addition to actively sharing the Gospel, is the work of an evangelist, and a Christian in general.
Here are some questions that a teacher may ask a Bible student in order to facilitate a discussion on the major topics of this section. By telling of their own experiences, and giving their testimony, Bible teachers can use these to guide the conversation toward the upcoming chapters of the study series.
Note that these do not have to be taken in order, and not all need to be asked. The conversation should be natural, free, and with the purpose of discovering the needs of the student that the Biblical faith can meet.
1) What is your understanding of the Biblical use of the word "faith?"
2) Why do many Christians believe that "faith" and "works" are opposing principles, even though the Bible speaks of both in a positive light?
3) What are some ways in which the world's definition of "evil" may differ from God's?
4) What does the Bible say about whether or not God's Law changes over time?
5) In what ways are our personal goals related to the Commandments found in the Bible?
6) How have your past goals related to the Bible's revelations?
7) Are you willing to re-organize your life around what you are learning from the Scriptures?