God’s grace and Israel’s existence today

“For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

After Mordecai learns of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews in the book of Esther, Mordecai seeks to motivate Queen Esther to use her position to help save her people. His question in 4:14 was intended to help Esther see God’s purpose in enabling her to become Queen at “such a time as this.”  

After fasting for three days, Queen Esther intervenes and exposes Haman’s plot to annihilate the Jews and then Haman is hanged “on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai” (Chapters 5-7). Queen Esther then persuades her husband, King Ahasuerus, to send letters throughout his kingdom enabling the Jews to “avenge themselves on their enemies” so that on that designated day, the Jews defended themselves by killing “seventy-five thousand of their enemies” (9:1-16). Afterward Queen Esther and Mordecai established the Feast of Purim to be celebrated yearly so the memory of these Jews “should not perish among their descendants” (9:17-28). Then Mordecai was elevated by the king to second in command (Chapter 10). 

Throughout history, the devil has tried to destroy the Jews through different nations and leaders, the most familiar recent attempt being Hitler’s slaughter of millions of Jews in the 1940s. Think about it, today Israel exists like a tiny island of a few million immigrants surrounded by a sea of over 300 million enemies. It would seem inevitable that, sooner or later, this tiny nation would be destroyed. 

Israel’s existence today is best explained by God’s faithfulness and grace  to His promises to Abraham and his descendants (cf. Genesis 12:1-3;  13:16; 15:17-21; 17:7-8; et. al). God has supernaturally preserved His people even though Israel has stubbornly disobeyed the Lord resulting in them being oppressed and scattered throughout the whole world (Deuteronomy 4:27; 28:65). 

According to the Bible, a future leader will make a seven-year peace deal with Israel, fulfilling Israel’s longing for peace (Daniel 9:27a). But Scripture also says this peace plan will be broken, and Israel will be attacked once again (Daniel 9:27b; cf. Revelation 12:13-17). Countless armies will amass against them with no human hope of victory at the end of the seven-year Tribulation (Psalm 2:1-2; Revelation 16:12-16; 19:19). Only King Jesus’ return, judgment and reign will finally bring lasting peace to Israel (Revelation 19:11-20:6; cf. Isaiah 2:1-4). 

As you read this article, you may ask, “Why would God continue to pursue such a stubborn and rebellious people such as Israel”? The answer is that God is demonstrating His amazing grace to the world. Only a God of grace would put up with them! But that is true of you and me as well. God is not doing one thing for the Jewish people that He is not willing to do for all of us. He pursues us in love despite our sinfulness. And regardless of how stiff-necked we may be, He never washes His hands of us.

God knew you would be reading this article right now. He knows what you are going through and He wants to extend His grace to you. God says in Hebrews 13:5: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” If you have Jesus Christ in your life, you need to know that He will never abandon you. He will never leave you alone. You may have lost your job…home…family… even your own health, but you cannot lose your relationship with Jesus Christ once you come to Him in faith. No one can take that away from you.

If you do not have Jesus Christ in your life, you need to know that time is running out! One day soon, Jesus will be coming for His church to remove them from the earth (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). Here is the question: Is He coming for you? You can know for sure that He is if you will do but one thing – “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). 

The Bible tells us that all people have sinned against God with their thoughts, words, and actions (Romans 3:23). Because of our sins, we all deserve to die forever in a terrible place called the Lake of Fire (Romans 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). But God does not want any of us to die forever in hell, so He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die for our sins on the cross and rise from the dead (John 3:16a; I Corinthians 15;1-6). God is now asking you to “believe” or trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone (not your water baptism or goodness or morality), to save you from the Lake of Fire forever (Acts 16:31). No amount of your good works can save you from an eternity in the Lake of Fire (cf. Isaiah 64:6; Romans 4:5). Only Jesus Christ can save you because He is God (John 1:1, 14, 17; Titus 2:13) and only God can save you from your sins forever and give you eternal life (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 16:31; I John 5:20). 

If you just believed or trusted Christ alone to save you from the Lake of Fire and give you eternal life, know that Christ has saved you forever and given you everlasting life (John 3:16; Acts 16:31! Rest in His promise to deliver you from the Lake of Fire forever and from the coming wrath of God on earth (I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-18). Begin to share this good news with others so Jesus can do the same for them (Matthew 4:19; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). 

How can we overcome fear in evangelism?

One of the greatest challenges we face as believers is fear in evangelism. It’s not that we don’t want to share Christ with others. Nor is it due to a lack of commitment. I believe most Christians would love to share the gospel with non-Christians, but they are overcome with fear. They are afraid of rejection. They are nervous about not knowing what to say. It is important to understand that fear in evangelism is normal. Even the apostle Paul was afraid to share the gospel at times. This is why he asked believers to pray that he would have boldness in preaching the gospel (Ephesians 6:18-20; cf.  I Corinthians 2:3). The issue is not having no fear in evangelism. The issue is how to overcome fear with boldness. How can we overcome fear in evangelism?

In Acts 4:12-31 there are four principles for overcoming fear in evangelism. In the context of these verses we see that as a result of healing a lame man in the name of Jesus Christ, Peter and John were brought into the custody of the Jewish supreme court of Israel known as the Sanhedrin (Acts 3-4). Instead of standing before the wealthiest, most intellectual and powerful group in the land as a victim, Peter and John stood before them as their judge. Peter accuses them of crucifying not only the One Who was innocent, but also the One Who was the long-promised Messiah (4:10-11). Ouch! That is boldness! Do you want that kind of boldness to speak up for Jesus?  Then…

GRASP THAT YOU HAVE THE RIGHT MESSAGE (4:12). Peter said, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (4:12).  Do you believe that? If you do, it will increase your boldness to share Christ with others. He is the only One who can save people from their sins. The more you are convinced that the gospel is true, the more boldness you will have to speak up for Christ. 

Who should have more boldness, a Christian talking about Christ, or a Buddhist talking about Buddha? A Christian, of course! Why? Because unlike the Buddhist, the Christian has a message from God (cf. I Thessalonians 2;2-4). It contains no error. We have only truth and Good News, not error and bad news to give peopleOnly a Christian has the message that proclaims Christ’s name as the only name by which God will save those who come to Him in faith. 

Why is Jesus’ name the only name by which people can be saved from hell forever? Because He alone is God (John 1:1, 14; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20) and He paid the full price of admission into heaven when He died on the cross and rose from the dead. All other religions, whether it be Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Iglesia Ni Cristo, etc., are spelled D-O. Their message centers around a false gospel – what the person must DO for God to get to heaven. Christianity, however, is spelled D-O-N-E. The work of paying the full penalty for all of our sins was“finished” or DONE when Jesus Christ died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:1-6). This is the true gospel based on what God has done for us, not what we have done or will do for Him. Knowing that we have the only message in the world that guarantees a future home in heaven for all who believe in Jesus Christ alone can give us more boldness in evangelism. 

GROW CLOSER TO JESUS (4:13). As Peter and John boldly spoke of Jesus before these educated and powerful opponents, their listeners could discern that these men had spent time with the Savior. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (4:13). These two lowly fishermen were not intimidated by all the intellectual knowledge and training of these men. They were more impressed with Jesus and they wanted this group to know Him in a personal way. This elite religious group acknowledges the boldness of Peter and John while noting their lack of education. 

Often a person’s boldness for Christ shrinks as his education increases. He or she becomes “too sophisticated” to be bold for Christ!! It’s better to possess boldness and lack learning, than to possess learning and lack boldness. And it is one thing to be bold with our social equals, but it is an entirely different thing to be bold – as Peter and John were  – with our social and educational superiors. True boldness knows no respect of persons. 

Boldness in evangelism does not arise from having a theological degree or a vast knowledge of the Bible. The key to boldness in evangelism is spending time with Jesus Christ. Peter and John had been in a discipleship relationship with Jesus for over three years. His heart became theirs. So the closer we get to the heart of Christ, the closer we get to the people for whom He died. His heart bleeds for the lost. Luke 19:10 explains: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” The heart of our Lord is a seeking heart. Aren’t you thankful for that? We would still be lost in our sins if Jesus did not seek us out. Look at God’s heart. First Timothy 2:3-4 say, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God created hell for the devil and his angels (cf. Matthew 25:41), not for people. God desires that all people go to heaven and He wants to use you and me to introduce people to the Savior who can get them there.

Those who live close to Christ capture His heart for the lost. They bleed for the same people He bleeds for. And the more they experience Jesus’ love and grace in their lives, the more compelled they will be to tell others about Him and what He can do for them. 

Also, as we grow closer to Christ, we can approach people with a clear conscience (cf. I Thessalonians 2:10-12). We don’t have to consider witnessing to a lost person thinking, “I sure hope he doesn’t find out how I live or treat my family.” Instead we can walk up to someone who doesn’t know Christ knowing we are attempting to live a consistent Christian life. Notice, I said “consistent,” not perfect. If we are living with unconfessed sin, it will reduce our boldness for preaching the gospel since our fellowship with the Lord will be broken (I John 1:3-10). I cannot be bold for Christ if I am out of fellowship with Him. 

GIVE CHRIST OUR OBEDIENCE, NOT OUR OPINIONS (4:19-20). Overcoming fear in evangelism is not done in a classroom or convention. It is cultivated through obedience. Peter had just accused the Sanhedrin of crucifying the long-promised Messiah named Jesus. These leaders did not want to hear this, so they commanded them not to preach Christ any longer (4:18). To share Christ now would be to go against the highest authority of the land. What would they do? It’s one thing to share Christ in a friendly environment such as in the church, but what about sharing Christ with those who could take your life? What would Peter and John do? Would they hover in a corner… pray for the rapture…or plead with God to send someone else? No. Their response was immediate. There was no, “Would you allow us a day or two to pray about this?” 

19But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’ ” (4:19-20). The apostles had made their decision. Obedience to God must come first, not a surrender to the fears and threats presented by people. They made their decision; their accusers could make their own. The apostles were so gripped by the message of the gospel that everything else became immaterial in comparison. They had the attitude, “If you miss this, you have missed everything.” Peter and John are compelled to make the truth of Jesus known and they continue to do so. 

God honors obedience. The humble, dependent heart that says, “Lord, I’m afraid to preach the gospel, but you are my Master. I am Your disciple. I will do it for You, Lord Jesus, with Your help” (cf. Luke 5:5). We cannot overcome fear in evangelism apart from obedience to a simple God-given command. 

The more you know Jesus, the more You want to please Him instead of people. Jesus is not interested in hearing our opinions about why we lack boldness in preaching the gospel. Some of those opinions may include :

“But, Lord, I don’t know what to say to these people. I don’t want to be embarrassed.”

“These people may ridicule me or reject me.”

“Lord, I could lose my life.” 

What’s at the center of all those opinions? The word “I” or “me.” Focusing on ourselves becomes distracting at the least and defeating at its worst. Instead of focusing on ourselves, let’s shift our focus to Jesus and what would please Him. He is more interested in our obedience to His command, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8; cf. Mark 16:15). 

The power and boldness of the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey. When we seek to please Jesus Christ instead of ourselves or others, we will always have boldness in our preaching. It won’t matter if our audience is receptive or not because our most important Audience is seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven, not next to you at work or school or on a bench at a film showing. Keep looking unto Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Seek to please Him, not people (Colossians 3:23-24). In order to renew our boldness in evangelism, we must resolve to obey Christ at any time. He may ask you to share the gospel when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable or even when it does not make sense. But when Jesus tells you to share His gospel with someone, JUST DO IT. He will give you the words to say through His Spirit (cf. Matthew 10:17-20). He will give you the boldness with which to say it (Acts 1:8; 4:29-31).

GO TO GOD IN PRAYER (4:23-31). When Peter and John returned to the rest of the church, they did not brag about how they stood up to the Sanhedrin. They reported all that the religious leaders said to them (4:23). The apostles were afraid and together with the rest of the church they laid their fears before God (4:24-30). Often times we tell one another about our lack of boldness in evangelism, but seldom do we talk to the Lord about it. God ought to be the first Person we talk to about our lack of boldness in evangelism, not the last.

As these believers looked up to God in prayer, they focused on four  things…

God’s Strength (4:24): They prayed,“Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them…” (4:24). Threatened by the rulers of Israel, these believers now turn to the Ruler of the universe who also created these rulers. The majesty of God’s creation dwarfs the earth and its problems. We must not let our problems dwarf our concept of God but let our concept of God dwarf our problems. Since God can create the universe in six days, He will have no problem giving us the strength to renew our boldness for preaching the gospel. 

God’s Scriptures (4:25-26): They prayed, 25Who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? 26The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’” (4:25-26; cf. Psalm 2:1-2). These Christians are praying the Scriptures found in Psalm 2:1-2, which describe a future day of rebellion when the nations will gather against Christ under the Beast of Revelation at the end of the Tribulation period (cf. Revelation 16:12-16; 19:19). They were so familiar with the Bible that they could see the relevance of Psalm 2 to their situation. The more we know God’s Word and its relevance to our situation, the more boldness we will have in evangelism.

God’s Supply (4:25-26): When these Christians focused on Psalm 2 which talks about a future day of rebellion when the nations will gather against Christ under the Beast of Revelation, do you know how the Lord will respond to their opposition? Psalm 2:4 says, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.” This is like the laughter of a father whose three-year old boasts that he can outrun him or beat him in a wrestling match. It’s not going to happen. Likewise, God knows the boundaries of power among the nations and He is amused by their attempts to overthrow Him. That, my friends, is boldness! If God laughs at this spirit of rebellion among the nations, it would be inappropriate for you and me to be afraid of those who oppose the gospel. God has an abundant supply of boldness to give us if we will ask Him for it. 

God’s Sovereignty (4:27-28): They prayed, 27For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done” (4:27-28). These believers apply the future spirit of rebellion to those who crucified Christ. They understood the sovereignty of God – that everything happens according to His plan. And the more you believe this, the more confidence and boldness you will have. God allows difficulties in our lives to teach us that He is in control and that nothing is impossible with Him. Have you ever met people you think even God cannot save? That person you think will never become a Christian? Bring him or her to God in prayer and he can melt that heart of stone. 

Look what happens next. 29Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus” (4:29-30). They don’t say, “Lord, would You remove these troublemakers… save us from prison or death.” No, they don’t pray that. Instead they ask God to give them the boldness and the power to share His Word with those who could take their lives. We often ask God to remove our problems rather than pray for God to be glorified in them. Thank God these believers prayed in this way, otherwise the church would not be here today. If we don’t pray in this way, the church may not be in our communities for future generations. 

What happened after they were done praying? “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (4:31). The more we look up to God in prayer, the less fear we will have in evangelism and the more we will boldly speak up for Christ with others!

Someone once said that in Acts 1-2 they pray for ten days, Peter preaches for ten minutes, and three thousand get saved. Today, churches pray for ten minutes, preach for ten days, and three people get saved. A.C. Dixon once said:

“When we rely upon organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education, we get what education can do; when we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do, and so on…But when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.” How much bolder would we be in evangelism if more were happening in our prayer lives?!

If we want to overcome fear in evangelism…

GRASP that we have the right MESSAGE (4:12).

GROW closer to JESUS (4:13).           

GIVE Christ our OBEDIENCE, not our OPINIONS (4:19-20).

GO to God in PRAYER (4:23-31)

Would you like to see the Lord add new believers to your church daily?

“And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47b

After the apostle Peter preached the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection to his Jewish audience on the Day of Pentecost (2:1-40), we are told that “three thousand souls were added” to the Jerusalem church that day (2:41). Luke also tells us that “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (2:47b). Would you like to see the Lord add new believers to your church every day of the year?

I would hope all believers would say “Yes!” For this to happen, we must center our churches around the Lord Jesus Christ and His purposes for His church (Matthew 22:37-39; 28:19-20; Philippians 1:21). Those purposes include:

Worship: “46So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47praising God and having favor with all the people”(Acts 2:46-47a; cf. Matthew 22:37; Ps. 149:1). The early church expressed their love for the Lord in worship by meeting in large groups (“in the temple”) and small groups (“house to house”), observing the Lord’s Supper (“breaking bread…they ate their food”) “with gladness and simplicity of heart” (2:46-47a). As a result God gave them “favor with all the people” (2:47a). 

Fellowship: “They continued steadfastly in…fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42; cf. Matthew 22:39; Heb. 10:24). Someone once said that fellowship is like two fellas on a ship. They are spending time together going the same direction as the ship. When believers are going the same direction as the Lord Jesus Christ, they will enjoy intimate fellowship with the Lord and one another as they worship Him together and pray together. 

Discipleship: “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…” (Acts 2:42; cf. Matthew 28:20). The “apostles’ doctrine” is the New Testament. Believers in Jesus need more than the commands of Christ. They need to be taught to “observe” or obey the commands of Christ (cf. Matthew 28:20; James 1:22). It is not enough to have Bible information. We must apply the Bible to our daily lives through the power of the Holy Spirit to experience the transformation of our lives into the image of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). 

Ministry: “44Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45; cf. Matthew 22:39; James 1:27). The early church lovingly ministered to one another’s needs by selling their possessions to give to the needs of their local church (cf. John 13:34-35; I John 3:16-18). These believers were givers, not takers. God wants His people to be the most generous people on earth in view of His great grace toward us through Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:1-9). Why not make this one of the goals of your local church?

Evangelism/Missions: “41Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them…47And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41, 47b; cf. Matthew 28:19a; Acts 1:8). Healthy churches do not keep the gospel to themselves. They obey Christ’s command to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone” (Mark 16:15; cf. Matthew 28:19a; Acts 1:8). They equip believers to share the gospel of Christ with non-Christians. Do not wait for unbelievers to come to your church. Go where the lost people are and share the gospel with them. 

The Lord loves to add new believers to churches that are centered around the Lord Jesus Christ and His purposes for His church (Matthew 22:37-39; 28:19-20; Philippians 1:21). As we focus on the Lord Jesus Christ and fulfill His purposes of worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism /missions, His gospel of grace will spread, and His church will grow and flatten the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18; 28:18-20). 

Must I be baptized with water to go to heaven?

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38

After preaching Jesus’ death and resurrection to his Jewish audience in Jerusalem (2:22-35), Peter informed them “that God has made this Jesus, whom” they “crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2:36). When these Jews felt sorrow or regret about what they did to their “Lord and Christ,” they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do?” (2:37). Peter told them to “Repent” (metanoeō) or change their mind about their wrong view of Jesus and then believe in Him for salvation from Hell (2:38a). By calling the people to repent, Peter was commanding them to trust the One whom they had crucified (cf. John 11:25-26; 20:31; I John 5:1). Acts 2:41, 44 confirm this understanding when they say the people “received his word” (2:41) and “all who believed were together” (2:44). 

Acts 3:19-4:4 also supports this usage of the verb “repent.” After Peter and John healed the lame man (3:1-10), Peter preached the death and resurrection of Christ to his Jewish audience (3:11-18) and invites his audience to “repent” or change their view of Christ and see that He is the Messiah. His Jewish audience was thinking, “If Jesus is the Messiah, then where is His Messianic Kingdom?” Peter explains that if they would “repent” and believe in Jesus as the Messiah, His Messianic Kingdom would commence (3:19-26; cf. Mark 1:15). How did these Jews respond? “Many of those who heard the word believed” (Acts 4:4). 

Several factors must be taken into consideration to properly understand Acts 2:38: 

1. Throughout the book of Acts we see that salvation is byfaith alone in Christ alone as taught by Philip (8:12, 37), Peter (10:43; 15:7-11), and Paul (13:39, 48; 14:27; 15:1-2; 16:30-31). God’s Word does not contradict itself, so Acts 2:38 must be talking about something more than salvation from hell. 

2. The distinction between regeneration and forgiveness. Regeneration is imparting the very life of God at the moment of faith in Christ to the believer (John 1:12-13; I John 5:1). Therefore, it is judicial and cannot be changed. Forgiveness, on the other hand, involves the restoration of harmony between God and believers (Luke 6:37; 11:4; I John 1:9). 

The Bible speaks of two types of forgiveness: Positional forgiveness involves the pardon of past, present and future sins at the moment of faith in Christ (Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7). This is a one-time event and cannot be changed. Fellowship forgiveness involves closeness to God, and it can be lost and restored repeatedly throughout a Christian’s life (Luke 6:37; 11:4; I John 1:9). For example, when you are born into your earthly family you will always be your parents’ child no matter what (regeneration), but closeness with your parents can be broken by your disobedience and restored by confession and forgiveness (fellowship). The same is true in our relationship with God. 

3. The meaning of repent. The word “repent” (metanoeō) means “to change one’s mind.” Whenever this word is used in a salvation context, it means “to change your mind about whatever is keeping you from trusting Christ and then trust Him to save you” (cf. Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 17:30; Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). 

4. The book of Acts is dealing with a transitional time in God’s program. The birth of the Church takes place in Acts 2. For a brief period of time after the birth of the Church, people were not baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13) at the moment of faith in Christ. For example, Samaritan believers (Acts 8:12-17), disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:2-6), and Saul (22:1-16) received the Holy Spirit after they were baptized with water. But Cornelius and his family all received the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith in Christ (Acts 10:43-48) which is the normative experience for believers today (cf. Mark 1:8; Acts 10:43-48; 19:5; Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14). Why the difference?

Palestinian Jews who had helped crucify Christ had to be baptized to be placed in the Church and have fellowship with God. That is, in order to enter into closeness with Christ, they had to publicly identify with Him through water baptism because they had earlier rejected Christ publicly when they participated in His crucifixion. This is why Gentiles in Acts 10, who had no part in Christ’s crucifixion, received the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith in Christ and were baptized later. 

So when we come to Acts 2:36-38, Peter says to his Jewish audience, “’36Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ 37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (2:36-37). Peter has just preached that Jesus, whom His Jewish audience had personally helped to crucify, was both Lord and Christ (2:22-26). Peter replies, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). By calling the people to repent, Peter was commanding them to trust the One whom they had crucified (cf. John 11:25-26; 20:31; I John 5:1). Acts 2:41, 44 confirm this understanding when they say the people “received his word” (2:41) and “all who believed were together” (2:44). 

The forgiveness spoken of in Acts 2:38 is fellowship forgiveness, just as we see in I John 1:9. For these Jews guilty of crucifying the Messiah, they had to be baptized and receive forgiveness for this sin of rejecting Christ in order to have fellowship with God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Without water baptism they would still have eternal life because they believed in Jesus (Acts 2:41, 44; 4:4; cf. John 3:16;  I John 5:1), but they would not escape the temporal judgment coming upon their sinful generation for crucifying the Messiah (Acts 2:40). 

Conclusion: Water baptism is not a condition for salvation or going to heaven. Only believing in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose from the dead is necessary to go heaven (cf. John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 8:12, 37; 10:43; 15:7-11; 13:39, 48; 14:27; 15:1-2; 16:30-31; Romans 4:5; I Corinthians 15:1-6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:13). However, water baptism is a condition for discipleship (Matthew 28:19) and is to be done as soon as possible after a person believes in Christ for His gift of salvation (cf. Acts 2:41; 8:6-13, 36-38; 10:43-48; 16:31-33; 18:8). When a believer is baptized with water, he is telling God and those who witness his baptism, that he desires to follow Jesus as His disciple no matter what the cost (cf. Matthew 10:16-39; 28:19-20; Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-33; John 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8).

Must I lose or hate my life to go to heaven?

“He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25

After Jesus used a grain of wheat analogy to show that He must die to produce life in many others including both Jews and Gentiles (12:23-24), He then applies this to discipleship when He says, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (12:25). The issue here is rewards, not salvation from hell. The believer who “loves his life” by selfishly living for him or herself, “will lose” the fullness of that life both now and in eternity in terms of the loss of rewards. Christ goes on to say that “he who hates his life in the world” by making his or her love and loyalty to Christ a priority “will keep it for eternal life,” that is, they will enjoy a deeper and fuller experience of eternal life both now and in eternity. So, the issue is not salvation, but the quality of a believer’s life both now and in the world to come.

When Jesus mentions hating one’s life, He is not talking about self-abuse or mutilation. That would be contrary to His other teachings about loving others “as yourself” (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; cf. Ephesians 5:29). While self-denial is implied in the phrase, “he who hates his life” (cf. Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:23-24), this does not mean we are to deny our humanity which includes our physical and emotional needs. 

For example, in a helpful article, entitled “Self-care and Self-Denial,” Amie Patrick talks about when we go through stressful seasons of life, we may have a greater need for sleep, nutrition, exercise, and emotional refreshment. Denying self does not mean we overlook these needs. She emphasizes that it is important to accept our God-given limits and receive the Lord’s gifts of rest, food, recreation, and solitude which are also acts of worship and obedience. While Jesus was fully human and fully God—He often set aside time in His ministry to be alone or to enjoy meals with friends (cf. Matthew 11:19; 14:13a; Mark 2:15; 6:31-32; Luke 5:15-16, 29; 7:36; 10:38-42; John 12:1-2). 

The expression “he who hates his life” refers to Jesus being a priority in your life over self and the material things “in this world.” Our devotion to the Lord Jesus makes our interests in the material affairs of this life appear by comparison as hatred. Those who are dedicated to Christ will “keep” or preserve that lifestyle for eternal rewards. Our earthly experience becomes a part of “eternal life” in that it contributes to the quality of our future life in eternity. But if we put our material things and selfish ambitions ahead of Christ, we will decrease the quality of our life in the world to come. 

The Bible teaches that eternal life as a future acquisition is always a reward  that is based upon works (cf. Matthew 19:29-30; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30; John 4:36; 12:25; Romans 2:7; Galatians 6:7-9; I Timothy 6:12, 19), but when eternal life is presented as a present possession it is always received as a free gift by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 22:17). If we die to self and make Jesus a priority in our lives, we can also experience His quality of life now. So, the way to truly live is to die to self and live to Christ.

Jesus explains further what it means to “hate” one’s life when He says, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor” (12:26). He is referring to self-denying service to Christ. If you want to serve Christ, you must follow Him. He is to be the number one priority in your life. Just as Jesus denied Himself and died for the world (12:27-28a), His disciples are to deny themselves and serve Him. When Christ says, “and where I am, there My servant will be also” in glory and honor is the main idea here as confirmed in the next part of the verse. “If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” The verb “will honor” refers to honoring faithful Christians with rewards. If you serve Jesus, you will receive “honor” or reward from His Father. If you want to be rewarded in the future, you must earn it by serving Christ now. Rewards are not a free gift. We must work for them to receive them in the future.

Jesus chose the way of the cross because of His desire to please His Father (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). Likewise, every follower of Christ must face a similar choice of taking the way of the cross. For example, a woman was told that the baby in her womb would be mentally impaired, but she refused the early abortion recommended by her doctors because she believed this would be wrong. An investment salesman lost his job because he insisted on being honest about the risks. And before the revolution in Romania, a lawyer lost his professional status and had to do menial labor because he openly confessed Christ as his Savior. These three Christians chose to take the way of the cross. They took seriously the words of Jesus, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me.” These two verbs, “serves” and “follow” are in the present tense and convey the idea of “keep on serving Me” and “keep on following Me.” Disciples of Christ who faithfully serve Him are promised His companionship (“where I am, there My servant will be also”) and those who faithfully serve Him are promised the Father’s “honor.”

We can often be busy “for” the Lord instead of being busy “with” the Lord. Jesus promises that when we serve Him, He will be there with us (John 12:26; cf. Matthew 28:20). When we serve the Lord, not others or ourselves, we are never alone. Christ guarantees “where I am, there My servant will be also” (12:26). 

The world says to put your material things or earthly life and self, first. It says, “There’s no need to take God seriously.” But if you don’t take God seriously, then there’s no need to take your marriage seriously, or the rearing of your children seriously, or such character traits as submission, faithfulness, sexual purity, humility, repentance, and honesty seriously either. If we don’t take God seriously, if we don’t make Jesus Christ our #1 priority now, it will cost us in the future. Oh, we will go to heaven, but the quality of our life there will be less than it could have been if we took Christ seriously. You see, the things we do now will prepare us for what we do in eternity. How I live on earth now will contribute to the quality of my life in heaven. If I live for Christ now by His grace, death will not interrupt that lifestyle. It will continue in eternity without interruption. 

First John 2:17says, “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” John reminds us that the world is passing away and therefore, it is a totally unworthy object of our sinful lusts and longings. If I am a laborer on earth, an architect, a musician, a secretary, a farmer, a teacher, a scientist, a physician – however skilled I may be at any of these activities – none of these designations will survive the present age. The term “abides” (2:17) is a fellowship term. The believer who is doing God’s will possesses a lifestyle that will not be interrupted by the passing away of this world. He experiences uninterrupted fellowship with God. He will experience “boldness” at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I John 2:28; 4:17) where the eternal worth of his earthly Christian life will be evaluated (I Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). But the believer who lives out of fellowship with the Lord does not “abide” forever in that his worldly lifestyle will be radically interrupted when he goes to heaven. His worldly lifestyle will not abide forever. It stops at heaven’s gates. But a dedicated lifestyle to Christ really has no ending.  

Conclusion: Must I lose or hate my life to go to heaven? Absolutely not! The only condition for going to heaven is believing in Christ alone for His free gift of everlasting life (John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13; et al.). But to experience eternal life as a reward in a deeper and richer way both now and in the future, I must faithfully and sacrificially serve Christ as His disciple (John 12:24-26; cf. Matthew 19:29-30; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30; John 4:36; Romans 2:7; Galatians 6:7-9; I Timothy 6:12, 19). Such a Christ-centered lifestyle will be richly rewarded by Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Matthew 25:20-23; I Corinthians 3:12-14; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10; 2 Peter 1:5-11 ).