UI – Part 360a – Stairway to Heaven
This title was inspired from a recent men’s group gathering discussing the Gospel. It is important to understand that for a Christian the Gospel is the message. It defines salvation.
People of all religious beliefs should know that the Gospel clearly spells how we achieve a life eternal with God. Beware, as there are false preachings, false prophets and false gods that ply a trade to nurture, to induce and to seek followers that offer salvation but cannot provide or guarantee it. Also there are those who just do not properly share nor explain the gospel, yet call themselves followers of Christ. Self proclaimed religious scholars may even lie about the salvation they offer; the outcome if obedient to their teachings may be different from what devout followers anticipate; or they may be as deceived as those they teach and guide. That would be a downer. If you are among those who pursue an alternative path you may want to fully consider the meaning of the Gospel and how you too are a focus of the intended consequences.
Works or Deeds
Let me preference the remarks with the term ‘works.’ Works can be defined as doing things to achieve a level of acceptance or not. Works are actions or deeds, and words spoken. There are good and bad works, as good and evil, white and black, right and wrong. It is easy to visualize that benefits should befall those who commit good works, earning rewards for doing what is right. The Ten Commandments is not an elusive list for items to do or avoid that if satisfied constitute good. Most readers are aware of this list. God provided this to Moses so his people would know, be made aware, if they did not already have an innate understanding, of the parameters upon which judgment is made. Do not kill or murder is one. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. These are actions. But also words or thoughts are noted. The term ‘covet’ is used meaning to want or desire wrongly, without regard for others, another’s house, property or possessions or their wife (husband). Lying, not keeping an oath, is wrong, “bearing false witness against thy neighbor,” and embodied in the two most important commandments noted by Christ; Love God and Love your neighbor. ‘Love’ is the operative term in each case.
The first commandment I saved for last. It portends a relationship with God. “Thou shalt not have any other gods before me.” All gods are not the same and all paths, even those moral and ethical, do not lead to the same god. Disobedience to these items and more, are considered crimes against god. They constitute SIN. It is critical to realize that salvation cannot be earned.
In the near future there will be a blog on ‘faith versus works.’ The point of that article will be God as priority. Consider those that are led to believe it is ‘works’, or ‘deeds’ that count towards salvation. Does that not alter the focus, taking it away from God to self. The effort to build a book of deeds containing enough to increase one’s opportunity for a life eternal can become more important than God. This in itself would be a sin, and in fact an evil, or bad deed, that with each effort to add credits only mitigates the total. God must always remain first.
The Quran writes, “Allah made a covenant with the Children of Israel and We raised up among them twelve chieftains. And Allah said, Surely I am with you. If you keep up prayer and pay the poor rate and believe in My messengers and assist them and offer to Allah a goodly gift (i.e. do good works), I will certainly cover your evil deeds and cause you to enter Gardens where rivers flow….” The deeds are works for which there are rewards which can offset evil. Islam is a works based ideology. To repeat – you cannot earn your way into heaven!
Sura 2.112, “…whoever submits himself entirely to Allah and he is the doer of good (to others), he has his reward from his Lord….” “It is entire submission to Allah and the doing of good…that is the true source of salvation,” as noted in a footnote to this verse. A common comment from Muslims, ‘Just as from dust is evolved the man, from the deeds which he does is evolved the higher man.’
Obedience to Allah is important, but is it out of love and a heart for Allah that causes a Muslim to be good, or is it the acts of goodness that gain Allah’s approval? Does a Muslim volunteer to love Allah and be obedient, or is it a requirement?
Sin – Born without Sin
Of the Abrahamic religions Judaism and Islam rely on works to achieve a level of satisfaction with God. It is as a scale where upon ‘works’ have a weight, good or bad. Certainly murder, as a bad ‘work’, weighs heavily on a person. The issue or question becomes, do good ‘works’ offset bad? According to the Quran the answer is ‘yes’. The scale is delineated in such a fashion as over one’s lifetime Allah judges the extent to which an individual’s scale of works is tilted more towards good or bad. It is a logical conclusion that a significant imbalance in favor of the ‘good’ warrants greater, at least further, consideration by Allah for acceptance of the Muslim on trial into paradise.
A book of deeds is maintained such that those with the greatest numbers have the best chance of Allah’s acceptance into a life eternal. But the final decision remains a judgment. From Sura 3.25, “…every soul shall be fully paid what it has earned….” Deeds are as an investment, the rewards, or the interest earned, depends on the quality and quantity of deed credits. In this way sin can be offset with positive acts of kindness and resistance to temptation. Sin, according to Islamic scholars, is a choice, not inherent in the fabric of a human. It reflects weakness when committed by a Muslim.
Muslims and Jews are born without a sin nature according to their system of belief. Sinless they enter the world, but they are weak and prone to fail in Allah’s eyes, God’s eyes. Sacrifice was a means for the Jew to atone for sins and seek forgiveness. Allah can forgive, just ask.
The practice of sinning and then having the spilling of blood and a burning of flesh, an animal or in some cases a human, to cleanse the sinner of their crime against God to be forgiven was a common ancient practice. Sin required punishment.
God told Abraham to sacrifice his birth son Isaac. He obeyed. The pyre ready, about to stab his son and place him on the sticks and light the fire, God stopped him. In a nearby thicket a ram appeared. It was the ram that became the substitutional sacrifice for Isaac. The Arabs tell the story using Ishmael, Abraham’s son born of his wife’s maid-servant Hagar, with a similar outcome. Ishmael was a dark skinned boy, his mother Egyptian, who was blessed by God and from him leaders of 12 nations would come. Those nations would be troublemakers and we know today they became Arab tribes. Isaac was given the covenant of God and a promise also to be the seed of great nations, including the seed of Jesus Christ. The family tree of Christ appears in the Bible (Matthew 1) directly linking the seed of Christ to Isaac.
Sin – Born with a Sin Nature
From the time of Adam and Eve, children of God in the Garden, who ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, man’s life changed. Perfectly created, living in paradise, having a woman helper, even walking with God, Adam enjoyed a life eternal. He was given a brain and able to think independently. He knew God and was informed of his expectations. So too Eve. God’s command was, “You shall not eat of the fruit of this tree.” Encouraged by a tempter that no harm would come to them, the tree was beautiful and full of luscious fruits, ‘go ahead, eat.’ They made a choice. It was the wrong one. They took a bite. That step was a demonstration of the weakness they were as spiritual beings to resist, to deal with, disobedience. Disobedient, they failed God. By so doing they were cast out of paradise and their bodies began a process of decay. No longer would they enjoy an eternal life in the Garden. And no longer would they be spiritually connected to God. And their human form would also have an end. They would die physically. This was bad. Failing to obey God, even when they knew what not to do, they did it anyway and died spiritually, physically (in time, spiritual death the cause of physical death), and eternally. It was a stain to be present in their offspring. We are all descendants. Called Original Sin, it is a fact we must face as the first step on the stairway to heaven. We are sinners. We will sin. God knows this. The is the Bad News.
The tempter was Satan – the evil one. The children were Adam and Eve, as we are also God’s children. God is the father to those children, to all children as the creator. The children were seduced by the tempter.
Because of what transpired in the Garden of Eden, to be saved for a life eternal took on a new dimension. Attempts through sacrifice of unblemished animals, to include lambs, man tried to be made right with God. But then the bad news took hold anew and again an inherent nature to sin caused another crime against the Lord. However, the process, no matter how often repeated, sacrificing a perfectly good animal to cover the sin of the person, would not result in a seat at God’s table. God knew man would sin again.
The world we live in finds activists for the devil lurking everywhere, just waiting for us to be tired, weak and open to advances counter to what is proper or good. It is a fallen world, and not just in America or the West, but universally. No matter the effort to eradicate access to seductive elements it is the human, every one of us, that allows them to invade our mind, body and spirit; due to the fact we have a sin nature. We will be tempted. It is a matter of dealing with the temptations and saying ‘no.’
The Good News tells us the extent to which God was willing to go to save, rescue, his children – to include you and me.
Next Week – The Good News.
Grace and Peace