How can I tell which social organizations are okay to join and which are not?

By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

Let me begin by asking you two questions:

  • If the Lord Jesus, your Savior and Lord, were here on earth in person right now, which lodge do you think would invite Him to join?
  • Which social organizations, if any, would He feel free to join?

I hesitate even to ask to what extent He would feel free to get involved in a social organization.

When we consider His life on earth 2,000 years ago we can be sure He was faced with somewhat similar questions. We are not specifically told of social organizations in the Gospels, but we find some respected and some not-so respected religious societies at that time. None of these give any indication that they would have welcomed Him as a member. Rather, while they were quite different, the one thing they had in common was that they all displayed enmity, or hostility, against Him.

History tells us that the Pharisees were a relatively small, elite, much-respected organization. The apostle Paul, before he was converted, had been a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5). In Matthew 23:2 Jesus told the crowds and His disciples that the Pharisees and the scribes sat in Moses’ seat. Back in Exodus 18:13-16 we see what this meant: Moses daily sat and judged the people, teaching them God’s statutes and laws.

“Whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do,” Jesus told those who were listening. But He added, “Do not do according to their works, for they say and do not do” (Mt. 23:3 NKJV). He then gave examples of their lifestyle; it was a lifestyle that came far short of what they were teaching. In Matthew 15 He called them “hypocrites” (v.7) because by their traditions they were making the commandments of God of no effect.

Several times we find the Lord accepting an invitation from a Pharisee to dine at his house. But when we look more closely we see that they invited Him in order to watch Him and find fault in His talk. But He knew exactly what needed to be said to the conscience of His host. He always was Master of each situation.

Interestingly, we never find the Lord in the home of a Sadducee. Most of the priests at that time were Sadducees. They were known for not believing in all that God’s Word taught: “For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection – and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both” (Acts 23:8). The Lord could have no fellowship with persons who went through all the forms and ceremonies of religion and yet did not believe basic elements of its teaching. A delegation of these Sadducees once asked Jesus a question that they felt clearly ridiculed Scripture, but He confounded them with His answer (Mt. 22:23-34, quoted on the next page in this magazine).

In this chapter the Pharisees even teamed up with the Herodians (v.16), a politically-oriented group of that day, to try to trap the Lord with a question about the tribute payment to Caesar. If He would answer one way, the answer would be seditious, or rebellious against the government. They felt if He were to answer the opposite way, He would lose His popularity with the people. However, He astounded them with the wisdom of His answer: “Render … to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v.21).

Many social organizations have some project of doing good as one of their purposes. Peter told Cornelius and those gathered at his house that Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). The Church – the organism rather than the organization, though often erroneously called that – has done and is doing a tremendous amount of good. And friend, as an individual you can easily find many ways of doing good and helping others! There is no shortage of needs in this world, and no shortage of opportunities to help meet them.

A very well-known passage of Scripture speaking on this subject begins with 2 Corinthians 6:14, which says, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” After pointing out the incongruity, or inappropriateness, of such a yoke, the passage concludes: “Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate,’ says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (vv.17-18).

Social organizations offer opportunities to socialize with others who have similar interests. This often involves eating and drinking together, and the drinking may well involve alcoholic beverages. While these have their uses in moderation, as 1 Timothy 5:23 shows us, there are numerous passages in God’s Word warning us against overindulgence in them. A person might abstain from drinking, but one is known by the company he keeps. No man can serve two masters, our Lord has clearly stated (Mt. 6:24), and the attempt to do so inevitably has bad results.

Some of the foregoing statements can also be applied to professional organizations, of which a worker is obliged to be a member in order to practice a trade or earn a living. We are not under law but must use the wisdom God so freely offers to give us. May our aim be to please Him, and may we ever weigh carefully before Him every invitation and inclination!

Is dancing in worship for the Church?

We are reprinting this answer from the June 1998 Grace & Truth Magazine for the blessing of the Lord’s people today, particularly those who recently asked this question.

The New Testament mentions dancing on only three occasions: the men-pleasing dancing of Herodias that cost John the Baptist his head (Mt. 14:6-11; Mk. 6:21-28), the dancing of little children at play (Mt. 11:16-17; Lk. 7:32), and the dancing the older son heard after his younger brother – the prodigal – had returned home from life in a far country (Lk. 15:25).

Nowhere in the New Testament is dancing associated with Christian worship or referred to as an activity of the Church. Singing and praying are both mentioned with approval in 1 Corinthians 14. Blessing is equated with giving thanks in verse 16. Speaking in tongues and prophesying are mentioned here too, although 1 Corinthians 13:8 makes plain that tongues would cease and prophecies should be done away. A psalm, a teaching, a revelation and an interpretation are added to these activities in 1 Corinthians 14:26, but dancing is never mentioned. Apparently it is not something for the edification of God’s heavenly people, nor is it referred to in other instructions for the church (Eph. 5:18-20; Col. 3:16). Not once in the historical record in the Acts do we find believers dancing in worship or testimony.

The worship of God’s earthly people in the Old Testament was to be in holy splendor, in the beauty of holiness (1 Chr. 16:29; Ps. 96.9). Its components were outward – a geographic center, a gorgeous, well-furnished building, tangible sacrifices, priests with vestments, musical instruments, choirs, incense and much more. Dancing fits right into this pattern, a pattern set aside in the New Testament until we come to Revelation, which is written in symbolic terms and describes worship in heaven rather than on earth. Today the Father seeks worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23). May our hearts, appreciative of His Son’s finished work, overflow in worship and adoration before Him!

“Is the Christian faith a ‘blind’ faith?”

Answered by Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

QUESTION:Is the Christian faith a “blind” faith?

ANSWER: The Christian faith is not another religion among the thousands of religions in this world. Instead, it is essentially a relationship with the One who proclaims Himself to be the Light of the World and promises that anyone who follows Him will not walk in darkness. “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life’” (John 8:12 NKJV). He was “the True Light … which, coming into the world, is light to every man” (1:9 footnote, JND). Here we can fittingly apply the words of David in Psalm 36:9: “In Thy light shall we see light.”

“Light” is one of the key words in the Gospel of John, along with “life” and “love.” Throughout its chapters we see again and again the battle between light and darkness. Religious leaders were stumbling in darkness in chapter 1 and trying to pin down John the Baptist as to who he was. John pointed to One whom they did not know but was coming. A few verses after this answer, the Light came onto the scene. When John proclaimed Him to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (v.29) and “the Lamb of God” (v.36), the bystanders seemingly paid no attention to Him.

But two of John’s disciples, having heard his declarations, followed Him. When the Lord inquired what they were seeking, they answered, “Where are You staying” (v.38 NKJV). He replied, “Come and see” (v.39). These disciples then gave the same invitation to others to bring them to Jesus. Throughout this gospel, in one personal encounter after another, we hear this invitation repeated:

  • Philip to Nathanael – “Come and see” (v.46),
  • The Samaritan woman to the men of her city – “Come, see a Man who told me …” (4:29), and
  • Jesus to His listeners – “… comes to Me …” (6:35,37, 7:37).

In John 9 we see a man born blind become seeing. Initially there was obedience to the word of the Lord. Then, as he was questioned by the enemies of the Lord, we see him growing in his understanding of who the Lord is until finally the Lord revealed Himself to him, and he is found worshiping Him. The Lord built on this at the very end of John 9 and into chapter 10, showing that coming into relationship with Him is a pathway of increasing light, while walking according to the traditions of the religious teachers is a matter of following blind leaders.

Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead in John 11, came out of the cave where he had been buried, bound hand and foot with grave clothes and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus commanded that he be loosed from all these impediments. He could then walk intelligently, and consequently in John 12 we find him sitting at the table with Jesus, but he was also then an object of the enmity of the spiritually blind religious leaders.

John 13 through 17 present us with the final hours of the day before the Lord’s crucifixion. We see the Lord occupied with His followers, first showing them His loving concern by cleansing and refreshing them, then pointing out their weaknesses when they are self-confident. He went on to tell them about the dwelling places in the Father’s house He was about to prepare for them and continued from there to tell them about the Holy Spirit who would take His (Christ’s) place in guiding and aiding them in His absence. He told them too of the Father, who loved them, who pruned them to make them fruitful, and to whom they could come in His name with their petitions and needs. He warned them that they, like He, will encounter the world’s hatred and enmity, but they heard Him praying for them and expressing His appreciation for them as He prayed to the Father.

A little later that night Jesus was arrested and given a completely unrighteous trial by the Jewish Sanhedrin and then in the morning by the Roman governor. He was crucified, buried and rose again – appearing to different ones of His own. His final words in this gospel are “You follow Me” (21:22).

No, the Christian faith is not a blind faith. It is an intelligent walk with the Lord Jesus Christ – a pathway of joy and satisfaction while sharing the reproach and rejection of the One who came as light into this world, which lays in deep darkness. “Follow Me!” is something He still says to His own. You will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. In the words of King Solomon in Proverbs 4:18, ”The path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.”

Do ‘believing’ and ‘being born again’ go together?

By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

QUESTION: Some people say they believed in the name of Jesus Christ one year, then several years later they were “newborn.” I thought believing and being born again went together. Please clarify this matter for me.

ANSWER: People have struggled with this question down through the years. Many Christians – and even evangelists – use the terms “saved” and “born again” loosely, as though they are synonymous. While they overlap widely, the Bible does not use these two terms interchangeably.

The Lord Jesus in His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 told him that unless one is born again he cannot see or enter the kingdom of God. He further indicated that Nicodemus, as a teacher in Israel, should have known this fact. Doubtless, He was alluding to Ezekiel 36:24-26.

In the Old Testament we first find God dealing with individuals and families, and beginning in Exodus also dealing with Israel as a nation. Gospel preaching and salvation of the individual as we know it today was not emphasized as much. Abraham believed God and God counted this to him as righteousness. God commended Job to Satan in Job 1 and 2, and to his three friends in chapter 42. As the Lord pointed out in John 3, and as passages such as John 1:10-13, Romans 4, James 2 and many others make clear, salvation is always an individual matter. In the light of the New Testament we can say that many individuals mentioned in the Old Testament were born again. Obviously, the Holy Spirit had done a work in their hearts. It is plain from the accounts in Scripture that others, even though Israelites, definitely were not born again.

We see in the New Testament this emphasis on an individual’s need for salvation far more clearly. Today, since the Lord Jesus has died, risen and ascended, and the Holy Spirit has been given, salvation has become a blessing even greater and more glorious than simply being born again. When the Holy Spirit came He baptized the entire group of individual born again believers, who were all in one place in Jerusalem as the Lord had commanded them, into one body: the Church, or better said, the Assembly. This was something totally new and was accompanied by outward signs.

Individuals today enter into this blessing the moment they accept Christ as their Savior. Contrary to a false teaching that is extremely prevalent throughout the world today, no later “second blessing” or outward experience of any kind is needed. Sadly, many are not content to take God at His word, but insist that there must be some spectacular outward evidence (most commonly “speaking in tongues”) to prove that this blessing has been given. Their efforts to bring this about often have the practical result of salvation to them becoming a works-based religion, something for which they must strive.

Having trusted Christ, the believer today is also sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise according to Ephesians 1:13. This seal is the evidence that the believer belongs to the Lord and is the guarantee of the inheritance that he will soon receive. The believer is a child of God; he can call God “Abba Father” (Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6 NKJV). He is dignified by being recognized as one of God’s sons – a mature individual no longer needing to be under the law as the rule for his life. The Spirit guides his walk and, indeed, his life. He is the anointing who teaches believers all things and takes the things of Christ and reveals them to us. The Christian cannot be lost, for nothing can separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus his Lord. The Holy Spirit dwells in him and abides with him forever. Such assurances go far beyond anything that the believer in the Old Testament enjoyed or could claim for himself. All this is included in the great salvation we believers are given to enjoy today!

Coming back to the question we began with, certainly believing and being born again go together and have always gone together. To believe, actually, is a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart as well. The latter part of Romans 3 shows that in Old Testament times, before God’s Son came into the world and died on the cross for us, God exercised forbearance and justified all who believed His word. He did this in view of the work that Jesus Christ would accomplish on Calvary. Whether they knew little or much, it was faith in what God said that justified them. What Christ has done on Calvary is the only means by which anyone can be justified before God. After all, what would heaven be like if we could boast of any work of our own, even of our own believing – how soon, how steadfastly, how strongly, how anything else? “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Now that the Lord Jesus has glorified God by accomplishing the work given Him to do at Calvary, we must trust Him and the work He has done to be saved. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And what a glorious thing salvation is today! How much more it includes than the earthly blessings given to godly people, who were doubtless born again but who lived before the great event told us in Acts 2.

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, in Acts 10:2 is described as “a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” This is the description of one who has been born again by God’s grace. I have no doubt that if he had died at the beginning of Acts 10 we still would have been able to meet him in heaven one day. But Christ had died, and God wanted to bestow the same blessing on Cornelius and his household and friends as He does on everyone who turns to Him today, in faith believing what His Son has done in giving Himself in death on the cross at Calvary. So Cornelius was told to send for Peter, “who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved” (11:14). As Peter spoke of who Jesus was, what He had done and what He had commanded His followers to preach, “that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins … the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word” (10:43-44). Now they were truly saved. Salvation in our present day involves receiving the Holy Spirit, and this, as we were reminded in Ephesians 1:13, happens when we believe. While it will likely take time and growth in the things of the Lord to learn, understand and enjoy the blessings involved in salvation in this day of grace, there is no time sequence involved in their reception.

The Holy Spirit does not normally speak of Himself or, we might say, call attention to Himself. His great purpose on earth is to glorify the Lord Jesus. Many who are not well taught in God’s Word do not realize this important truth. Often in their well-meaning ignorance they try to give great prominence to the Spirit. Sometimes they are not sure they are saved, or they may feel that somehow they must do something to stay saved if they profess to have been saved. Not being sure of their salvation, they do not grow spiritually. They may grieve or even quench the Spirit. If saved but living for the flesh or the world rather than growing spiritually and being led by the Spirit, they may well lose the assurance of being saved. Or, not knowing sound doctrine they may fall prey to unsound teachers and teachings, and then sometime later find the Spirit prodding them so that they decide to heed the voice of the Spirit and profess to be saved all over again. This can cause much confusion and unrest. In a word, they need help.

What God does is well done. His work is perfect. What He begins He will complete to His glory and praise. Salvation needs no repetition or improvement, but we don’t stand still in life. A Christian needs to grow spiritually. Where one has gotten far from the Lord in his manner of living, repentance and confession are in order – not a second salvation. The Lord desires to restore the wanderer. If you have deceived yourself and made a false profession, the Lord is willing to forgive this sin too and save you, but true salvation cannot be lost. Believing that salvation can be lost is really an insult to God brought about by not believing what He has said in His Word. Don’t insult God by unbelief and reasoning, but thankfully accept what He says in His Word!

How could Jesus Christ be made perfect?

QUESTION: If Jesus Christ is the eternal God and He is perfect before the foundation of the world, how can He be “made perfect” (Heb 5:9 KJV)?

By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

ANSWER: As God, the Lord Jesus Christ is, and ever was, perfect. Scripture does not, however, speak of Him as the Lord Jesus Christ before He came into this world, was born as a baby and laid in a manger in Bethlehem. In the early verses of John’s gospel He is called “the Word.” Indeed, this gospel opens with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1 NKJV). Several verses later we read: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory” (v.14).

In Luke 1:31 the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.” Sometime later the angel of the Lord spoke to Mary’s intended spouse1 in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:20-21).

We conclude from these passages that the holy Son of God was given the name “Jesus” when He entered manhood. “Christ” is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” The angel told the shepherds that this baby was “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11).

Before Jesus grew up, He was first called a “Babe” (v.12), then a “Child” (v.17). Just as Scripture makes absolutely clear that He is God – God the Son – it is equally clear that having been born into this world of a woman, He is true Man. God’s Word gives Him many marvelous titles, but the most prevalent term He used to refer to Himself was “Son of Man.” We are on holy ground when we speak of the wonderful mystery of His unique person.

In Hebrews 5 we are still in the portion of this book that sets forth our Lord Jesus as High Priest. As God in eternity past, He was not High Priest. He “did not glorify Himself to become High Priest (v.5), but was given this high honor by God. It was “in the days of His flesh” that “He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (vv.7-8). He was, and is, always morally perfect, for being who He is, the Holy One of God, He could not be otherwise. But obedience was something new for Him here on earth. He “humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8 JND).

Hebrews 2:10 says that “it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (NKJV). A helpful footnote in the Darby translation2 points out that the expression “to make perfect” in the book of Hebrews is used in the sense of fitting one for an office. After the Lord Jesus had suffered and died, God glorified Him so that “He became author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (5:9-10 NKJV).

Thus the expression “made perfect” (KJV) in Hebrews 5:9 in no way refers to or conflicts with the divine perfection which is intrinsic to our Lord Jesus Christ as God. It indicates, rather, how His sufferings while here on earth fitted Him for the glorious position of High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek to which God has now called Him.

1. We would speak of Joseph and Mary as engaged; but by Jewish custom they are referred to as husband and wife, although the marriage had not yet been consummated. An engagement was held to be sacred just as if it was a marriage.
2. Footnote “g” on the expression “to make perfect” in Hebrews 2:10 reads: “‘Make perfect’ in Hebrews has the force of doing all required to initiate into an office, to make a person fit to be installed in the office. It is sometimes translated ‘consecrate.’ ”

How do we truly know when we are forgiven?

By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

As we look at the Gospels we find some things that the Lord Jesus said and did are told us in one gospel while other events are in two, three or all four books. Depending on how the Lord Jesus is presented in a particular gospel, added facts may be given in one that are not mentioned in another. Similarly, additional facts and teachings may be given us in other books of the Bible as well. God has scattered vital teaching throughout His Word, yet there is a lovely harmony throughout the Bible. It is helpful and important that we acquaint ourselves with all of God’s Word.

The account of a paralyzed man being brought to the Lord Jesus by four of his friends is given us in Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5. Because of the crowd, the four had to open the roof of the house the Lord was in to let their friend down before Him. To their surprise and the shock of the scribes who were present, rather than the Lord immediately healing the man, He said to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” After asking which was easier, to forgive sins or heal a paralytic, He pointed out to the bystanders that He, the Son of Man, had power on earth to forgive sins, and then proceeded to heal the man. His power has not diminished during the past 2,000 years; it never can nor ever will. His power in heaven is equally limitless.

We might like to wonder if the healed man had some questions as he walked home, such as: “Did I understand Him correctly when He said, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you’? He didn’t add any conditions, did He?” or, “Well, I really can’t believe that it is that simple, and that I don’t have to pay or do anything at all.” But questions like these would indicate the man doubted the word of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who had likewise healed his paralysis by just speaking a word.

An unbeliever is called on to repent and believe the Word that is brought to him. Throughout the book of Acts we see both groups and individuals coming to salvation through faith in Christ. Depending on the circumstances and condition of the hearer’s heart, the message is varied. The Jews who had heard Peter’s message in Acts 2 obviously believed what he had preached and asked what they should do. They were told to repent and be baptized, which separated them from the mass of Jews who had rejected Christ and called for His blood to be upon themselves and their children. In Acts 16 we see the jailor at Philippi, trembling and on the verge of suicide, told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Repentance was not mentioned for it was clearly there.

When it comes to a believer today, all his sins were future when Christ died for them. Thus all the sins of the person who has been saved have been atoned for and forgiven according to God’s Word. He is saved. He has eternal life. He is a child of God. He cannot lose his salvation, for he is safe in the hands of the Lord Jesus and of God the Father.

But in 1 John 1:9 we believers are told, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NKJV). Notice, it doesn’t even say that we need to ask for forgiveness. The Lord guarantees us forgiveness if we confess our sins. Do we believe what He says in His Word? If we look closely at 1 John 1:9, we see that it doesn’t say we will feel forgiven, but He tells us that He forgives us our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness when we confess our sins to Him. Do we believe Him? Is He trustworthy? We truly know we are forgiven because we can count on what He says.

People’s feelings change constantly and are not to be depended on. However, the Lord Jesus is faithful. He cannot lie. May we rejoice in the knowledge of this and walk with our Lord, keeping short accounts with Him from day to day!

You are saved by Christ’s work, you are assured by God’s Word, and your joy is maintained by the Holy Spirit who indwells you. But every saved person still has the old, sin nature that he was born with. The Holy Spirit resists the old nature but is grieved by every thought, word or deed that springs from it. When you walk “worthy of the Lord,” the Holy Spirit produces in you His blessed fruit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22 NKJV). While Christ’s work and your salvation stand firm together – because He cannot fail – your walk and your enjoyment stand or fall together because the one depends on the other.”

—George Cutting

Do people become angels when they die?

Answered by Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

The brief answer is an emphatic, “No!” To help us to answer these questions let’s look at a story the Lord Jesus told that is recorded in Luke 16:19-31. Other Scripture passages confirm what we learn from this story, and add more details.

A rich man who lived in luxury every day and a poor beggar name Lazarus, full of sores, ultimately died. Indeed, Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death.

When Lazarus died, he “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (NKJV), a term the Jews used to indicate heaven. The Bible refers to Abraham as “the friend of God” several times. Notice, the beggar did not become an angel; rather, he was carried by the angels.

Hebrews 1:14 says that angels are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation.” An angel is a created being, but a spirit being. When God sends an angel on an errand to people, the angel normally appears in a bodily form, looking like a person. The Bible often describes an angel that appears to someone as looking like a man or a young man, sometimes in white garments. Never do we read of an angel resembling a woman or looking like a child. The Lord Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:30 and Mark 12:25 that the angels of God in heaven do not marry, so these mighty created spirit beings do not multiply. Although they are ancient beings, for angels were present and rejoicing when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4-7), we never find a reference to age in connection with God’s angels.

The Bible refers to angels in heaven, but nowhere does it indicate that a believer should look forward to fellowship with these exalted beings, great in power. The Christian’s portion is “to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23), and “thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:17). We shall be there in worshiping adoration, falling down before the throne, singing of the worthiness of the Lord Jesus as Creator and Redeemer, and as the One worthy to loose judgment upon the earth.

Nowhere do we find saints in the presence of the Lord looking back on the earth, occupied with the persons and circumstances that were part of their former life on earth. From reading Scripture carefully I would believe that we will be aware of things that are happening as the Lord visits judgment upon this guilty world. But then we will see things from His point of view, for our old, fleshly nature will no longer be a part of us. Until the rapture, only our soul and spirit are in that wonderful condition of bliss with the Lord, for our bodies are in the grave or elsewhere. At the rapture, our body will be changed to be like the Lord’s present body of glory, and it will again be united to our soul and spirit. Our portion as redeemed saints is higher far than that of angels, and our interest and joy will be to gaze on the lovely face of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ with hearts bowed in adoration.

The rich man, we read, “also died and was buried.” He may have had many servants during his lifetime, but there were no angels to serve him after his death. He was “in torments in Hades, longing for a drop of water.” He thought of his five brothers and wanted them warned so they would not come to this place of torment. Hades, the place of torment for the soul and spirit of the unsaved dead, is not a place a person can enjoy together with his friends and loved ones. Our Lord described the destination of the unsaved dead as a place of outer darkness where there is weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth – there is no fellowship in such horrible suffering!

The person suffering in hades will already be in extraordinary torment in the flame. He will be able to remember what he had in his life on earth and will doubtless remember every opportunity he had to be saved, which he neglected or rejected. Also, he will be made conscious of that great gulf that will forever keep him where he is – lost and eternally separated from God. He will have no chance to change his condition or to go back and warn others against coming to that dreadful place he is in. And hell, the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, will be full torment for body, soul and spirit forever and ever. No one becomes an angel there or tenderly watches his loved ones back on earth to see what they are doing. He has absolutely no ability to help anyone then.

It is here on earth that God invites us to receive the salvation His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, has wrought for us on the cross at Calvary. Then one day soon we will be with Him forever. On the other hand, to reject or neglect to receive the salvation God so freely offers us will result in the eternally fatal consequences of hell forever. Choose now, for God says, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation”! (2 Cor. 6:2).

How am I supposed to live, now that I am saved and in jail?

Not everyone is nice here. There is a lot of cussing. Should I just keep to myself? I am no better than anyone else, but I don’t want to fall back into that kind of life.

By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

I am happy to read your question for it shows that there has been a genuine change in your heart and life. You were a sinner and something you did in “that kind of life” brought you into jail. Now you’ve been saved and you are no longer comfortable in “that kind of life.” God’s Word tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (NKJV). The next verse goes on to say, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ.”

The fact of your not being comfortable with the life you once led is evidence that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in your heart. Being God, the Holy Spirit is holy. Being holy, He cannot stand sin. So you feel that your life should be different from the life you used to lead, the life that resulted in your being put in jail. This is right. You have been born again and are really a different person now. God has given you an entirely new nature and He now calls you a saint. People have strange ideas of what it means to be a saint. Some even have the unscriptural ideas that only people who have died are saints and that they can help us if we pray to them. Another is that a church or a religious official can make a person a saint. No individual or human organization is able to do this, for this is something God alone can do.

A saint is a holy person. He is someone who is separated to God. Your question shows that you realize this in your heart even if you might not express it in precisely these words. While you are still outwardly the same person you always were, a change has taken place in your heart that changes your entire outlook on life, thus your question, “How am I supposed to live now that I am saved?” God answers that question in 1 Peter 1:15-16: “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’”

I am not going to lay down a set of rules for you to follow, for God is not putting Christians under any kind of law today. But He has given us the Lord Jesus Christ, His beloved Son, first of all as Savior, but then also as a pattern or model or example to follow. We see this in 1 Peter 2:21.

You mention that there is “a lot of cussing” there in jail. I’m sure it hurts you to hear men use the name of the Lord Jesus, who loves you and died for you and who is now your Savior, in their cursing. Have you ever told men who use His name what He has done for you and what He now means to you? This might possibly speak to their heart or conscience. Perhaps it would bring questions from them or give rise to a discussion. In that way you would be a testimony to them. In any case, speak quietly and courteously; don’t argue or get mad and yell.

If they use the word “hell” in their cursing or ask God to damn someone or something, you might have an opening to ask if they understand what they’ve just said or wished. This might give you an opportunity to explain what hell is and how to avoid going there. You could perhaps explain that if God would damn someone to hell, this would be because that person is a sinner who has sinned against God, who is holy and hates sin. Tell them too that although “the wages of sin is death, the gift of God” (which He would much rather give than pay out death as wages that have been earned by sinning) “is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). This might lead to your telling them how and why Jesus died, that He is still the Savior of sinners, and that He has become your Savior. Back up your words by your life.

If your fellow prisoners argue and don’t want to listen, don’t force the issue. It’s better to keep to yourself than to be in the company of men who are against God, who has become your Father when you got saved, and against the Lord Jesus Christ, your Savior. Read Psalm 1. In fact, read the Bible and thereby get better acquainted with God and the Lord Jesus.

Quietly show by your changed life what it is to be a Christian. Actions speak louder than words. Ask the Lord to help you. Do this each day and even repeatedly during the day. And when you mess up, for that’s easy for any of us to do, don’t hesitate to apologize for what you’ve done wrong and ask forgiveness if it’s something you’ve done to a person. Confess what you’ve done to the Lord; He forgives us when we confess our sin (1 Jn. 1:9); we don’t even have to ask Him for forgiveness.

Pray. Look to Him for guidance each day. Seek to please Him. Don’t worry. Read your Bible daily, preferably early in the day. Don’t waste time with anyone who is trying to pull you away from the Lord and back into the old ways. Don’t act as if you’re better than others or show off. Don’t keep condemning or trying to correct others. Don’t expect unsaved people to live like Christians should live. If the Lord should lead you to a fellow believer, be thankful. Pray together. Read and study God’s Word together. Enjoy what fellowship you can. Discuss differences you may have but don’t argue about different viewpoints.

The Christian life is a life that must be lived during all your waking hours each day, 365 days a year and 366 days each leap year. It does not necessarily get easier as time goes on. When you get out of jail, don’t fool around with things that were a part of your old pre-Christian life. Don’t hang around with the crowd with whom you used to associate, but do tell them why and what has made the difference in your life. May God bless you!

QUESTION: People make wide claims of their experience in heaven when near death. Considering 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, what should we believe? “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago – whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows – such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows – how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” –2 Corinthians 12:2-4 NKJV

ANSWER: We do well not to be deceived by claims of near-death experiences made outside of the Word of God. When we read this Scripture passage in its setting we see how carefully the apostle speaks of this near-death or after-death experience. Going back to the previous chapter we find Paul defending his ministry against the attacks of “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (11:13) who were seeking to discredit him and his ministry. He does not want to boast about himself, but led by the Holy Spirit, he spoke about what he had suffered for the Lord’s sake up to that point – a list of sufferings at which we marvel.

Paul went on to say, “If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity” (v.30). He spoke first of the humiliation of having had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the wall of Damascus to escape arrest. Then he came to the subject of visions and revelations of the Lord. He spoke very carefully, referring to himself simply as “a man in Christ.” Fourteen years earlier, probably at Lystra where he had been stoned (v.25; Acts 14:8-20), he had had the marvelous experience mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12. He could not say whether he had been in the body or out of the body – God knew; but this man in Christ had been caught up to the third heaven – the abode, or dwelling place, of God. There he “heard unspeakable things said which it is not allowed to man to utter” (JND).

Unlike those who today claim to have had wonderful near-death experiences, we do not find the apostle Paul mentioning his experience until 14 years later. Contrary to such claimants, what this “man in Christ” heard he was neither able nor was he allowed to express in words. In fact, to keep him from being puffed up by his experiences, he says he was given “a thorn in the flesh” to buffet him (v.7). This was evidently a painful humbling physical ailment or weakness of some kind, the nature of which is not told us. It was from Satan, but Satan can only go as far as God permits him to go against God’s people. It may well have been one of the things others pointed to as they attacked Paul, seeking to belittle him.

Paul wrote that he had prayed three times, pleading with the Lord that it might depart from him. The Lord did not take the problem away. Instead He had told His suffering servant, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (v.9 NKJV). This the apostle found precious. As a result he said he would gladly boast in his infirmities that the power of Christ would rest upon him. He went on to say, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v.10).

Paul’s experience when caught up to the third heaven was not a cause for boastfulness on his part. What he experienced there he was not able or allowed to speak about. Has God changed His ways or His principles since then? Should we now accept the claims of those who profess to have made beautiful near-death experiences? Are they believers? We cannot deny that God is able to give His children wonderful experiences, but for what purpose: to boast, make money, write books about heaven or surpass the apostle Paul?

In these chapters in 2 Corinthians Paul pointed out that Satan transforms himself into an angel of light and that Satan’s servants similarly try to pass as ministers of righteousness. When unsaved people make claims about their near-death experiences, these experiences are usually presented as wonderful scenes of light, beauty and serenity. God’s Word does not speak of such scenes as the future of the unsaved. These experiences doubtless come from another source altogether, from the father of lies who transforms himself into an angel of light.

We have little understanding of how great his power of deception is, but God’s Word makes plain that Satan’s power surpasses our understanding. Our Lord Jesus defeated the Devil at Calvary, but this Evil One still has power in this world. Only God can set the limits beyond which he cannot go. Let’s remember too that God forbade His earthly people Israel to have anything to do with the realm of spirits. Such things are dangerous for Christians as well.

Again, Paul did not seek to capitalize on his experience. He was humbled by it and the consequences which God saw necessary to keep him from prideful exaltation thereafter. But he also gained the precious experience of learning that God’s strength was made perfect in his weakness. God has placed this experience of the apostle Paul in His Word that we might learn from it and be kept from getting occupied with satanic deceptions – no matter how alluring they may appear to be.

Answered by Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

QUESTION: In what ways does God chasten His children? How can His child realize God is chastening him?

Answered by Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

ANSWER: God is almighty and all-wise, while at the same time He is an all-loving Father to His children – those who have received His Son, Jesus Christ, as Savior and Lord. Since God is God we cannot in any way restrict Him as to how He may chasten His children. But let’s reflect for a moment on how the Bible uses terms like chastening, children and sons.

Hebrews 12 tells us how God as Father chastens us as His sons. Interestingly, while we who have believed are both His children and His sons, this chapter speaks of Christians as sons. In the First Epistle of John all believers are called “children,” viewed as having been born into God’s family. “Little children” indicates growth and differentiates, or distinguishes, them from young men and fathers. When Scripture calls believers “sons” it views them as those who have a measure of maturity and responsibility. In those instances where the Bible speaks of God “chastening,” it is speaking of training and disciplining. This may, if need be, involve punishing, but punishing is not the primary object of chastening.

A father chastens his own children and not children who belong to others. In this sense chastening begins early in life. A baby needs to be loved, fed and cared for with kindness in many ways, but we do not usually speak of chastening babies or very small children. As the child grows, chastening, child training or education becomes an important part of its life, and a wise parent carefully chooses the ways he or she trains up his or her child (see Prov. 22:6). We chasten as “seem[s] best” to us, which is during a relatively short period of time (Heb. 12:10 NKJV). Our Father chastens us, His sons, “for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (v.11). This chastening is really education meant for our good, and it does not have to be painful or unpleasant.

Chastening normally begins with a word: “My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother” (Prov. 1:8). Sometimes even a look will convey the message. God speaks to us through His Word, the Bible. If we listen to what He tells us the result will be pleasant and good. God in His grace may speak one, two or three times (Job 33:14,29) – and sometimes even more! He speaks through His Word, and His Spirit may bring things to our remembrance – often to our conscience. Oh, that we might listen and learn. “The Lord turned and looked at Peter, then Peter remembered the word of the Lord … So Peter went out and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:61-62).

If a word or look is not sufficient, our heavenly Father may apply stronger measures. In my own case as a boy the next thing would be my father applying the rod, often saying, “He that will not listen must feel.” God has many ways to apply the rod. Doubtless this is what our questioner is asking about.

There will be consequences for wrongs; sometimes they may be physical. When David sinned by numbering the people (2 Sam. 24; 1 Chr. 21), God allowed him to choose from three options. He may not give us a choice, but if He does it is wise to leave the decision to Him.

In 1 Corinthians 11:29-32 we see that the consequence of sin may be sickness or even premature death, sometimes happening to someone else. An accident, injury or overdose – there are many ways by which we are reminded that the wages of sin is death. The sick person in James 5:14-16 seems to have realized that his illness was the result of some sin in his life that needed to be confessed. Not every illness is necessarily our Father’s chastisement, but it is good to be sensitive to what God may be saying to us – not only in unusual situations, but in every situation we encounter in life.

How can we realize that God is chastening us? This is not an easy question to answer. The Lord Jesus sets before us an example in Matthew 11. He keenly felt His rejection in Galilean cities where He had labored much and sadly had to speak of the judgment that awaited them. Yet “at that time Jesus answered and said, ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight’” (vv.25-26). In 2 Samuel 16:5-13 David, when fleeing from his son Absalom, was being pelted by Shimei with stones, dust and wicked curses. But he would not let Abishai kill Shimei. “Let him alone, and let him curse,” he said, “for so the LORD has ordered him.”

It is well for us also to accept all things from the hands of God our Father and ask Him to show us what He would have us confess or learn from them. “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The closer we walk to the Lord, the more readily we will understand what our Father is seeking to accomplish in us and for us by His chastening. He wants to guide us with His eye but, sad to say, He must often resort to bit and bridle instead (Ps. 32:8-9).

How good to be reminded that the fact that God chastens us is a proof that He loves us and He considers us His sons. Let’s not despise His chastening nor be discouraged by it. Rather, let’s endure it and submit to His training of us through it.