Our Attitude Toward Correction

In our lifetime we are going to sin (1 John 1:7-10). Undoubtedly, some of those sins are going to be committed in the presence of others. There are going to be times when we either do not recognize that what we did was a sin, or that we understand it to be a sin but do not want to take the appropriate action to correct it. In either of these situations, the opportunity for another person to come to us and point out our personal sin exists. What should our attitude be toward someone who approaches us with our sin and suggests correction? Let’s look at some attitudes that we might have toward personal correction in our lives.

“I haven’t done anything wrong.” Often when confronted with personal sin this will be the first response. This attitude, however, is a mistake. Even when we are reasonably sure that we have not done anything wrong, our attitude should not be that of Bart Simpson, “I didn’t do it; nobody saw me do it; you can’t prove anything.” Even popular culture recognizes the error of this fatalistic response. When confronted we should be open to the possibility that we have sinned. When it is demonstrated that we have sinned, many times the difficulty comes in swallowing the hard conclusion that I did something wrong. It takes humility and meekness to even admit the possibility and much more to admit the actuality. At this point a correct response should be, “Let’s sit down and see what the Bible has to say about the subject and if I am wrong, then I will try to make things right.”

“You don’t have a loving attitude.” This is a popular response when we confront someone who needs to be corrected. That is because it is a legitimate concern. The Bible speaks clearly that those who are going to attempt to offer correction to others must have the right attitude when so doing (Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:15). We must both look to ourselves and speak the truth in love when engaging in personal correction. However, to use this expression as a statement of defense falls short because it does not deal with the issue at hand. It is a diversion away from the original problem and those who say this generally are trying to avoid the real issue. Some even go to the point of saying that suggesting any form of correction is not loving. The scriptures, however, simply do not teach this and we recognize this to be true in our lives as well specifically in relationship to our children. The parent who wields no discipline upon their child is really the parent who does not love his child (Proverbs 13:24; Hebrews 12:5-11). In loving adult relationships also, reproof is required when sin is involved and this is not an indication that someone does not love another, but that they do (Galatians 4:16). When confronted with correction, we should assume that the person coming to us has the best of intentions in mind.

“The preacher is wrong.” Well, that may be the case. Sometimes preacher’s make mistakes and say things that are not correct. However, the Bible is not wrong. When the preacher sets forth scripture regarding the truthfulness of his statements and one disagrees, the proper course of action is to go discuss things with the preacher. This, however, is the last thing that the one with the incorrect attitude toward correction wants to do because if one sits down and engages in a study of the Bible, one is usually going to find things that one does not want to admit. Part of the requirements the Bible places upon preachers is to rebuke and reprove (2 Timothy 4:2). When this illuminates our personal sin, self-reflection is the appropriate course of action (1 Corinthians 13:5), not castigation of the preacher. Remember that the preacher (if he is a good one) is not setting forth his own personal opinions, but the word of God (2 Timothy 4:1).

“No one cares about me and my problems.” Many times, individuals will state these particular words out of an attitude of selfishness. “Woe is me; no one loves me; aren’t I a wreck!” We used to sing a song in grade school about eating worms. The chorus went like this, “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m gonna eat some worms.” The point of the song was that self pity usually results in actions that are self destructive. The truth is that someone does care. When we hear teaching on subjects that are uncomfortable to us it is because someone cares enough for us to present what the Bible says on the subject. Since the Bible is the ultimate standard by which we will be judged (John 12:48), it is the ultimate loving and caring thing to do. What is really meant by this statement is that no one is trying to comfort me in my sinfulness. In contrast our attitude should be, “I have problems; help me to resolve my problems.”

“Look at all the other hypocrites who need to repent too.” Similar to the “you are not being loving” line, this is a diversion. When we are confronted with the issue of our own personal sin, we have the responsibility to examine ourselves and make correction (James 1:22-25). Whether or not another person in the church is a hypocrite has nothing to do with our own personal attitude toward correction. The assertion may be true that there are others acting hypocritically, but this does nothing to correct the problems in our own lives. Pointing to others in the church who are acting hypocritically as a defense against our own personal correction simply increases bitterness in our lives toward those around us as well as toward our own personal sin. No doubt if a hypocrite is involved in the correction process, he should recuse himself until he gets his own personal sin resolved (Matthew 7:1-5). However, this does not mean that one is “off the hook” from being confronted with sin. One still must deal with the problem of one’s own personal sin.

“You just are refusing to forgive.” When the result of personal correction ends in the right way there should be forgiveness. This does not imply, however, that there will be further teaching on the subject. To the contrary, usually when a person sins this means that there needs to be additional teaching on the subject. This is the correct and appropriate response. When a child comes home with an “F” on a test paper and asks Mom and Dad for forgiveness, and forgiveness is granted, this does not mean that all study on that particular subject should cease. To the contrary, the parents will probably spend MORE time in the pursuit of that particular subject with the child. Does this mean that they have refused to forgive the child? Of course not, in fact we recognize just the opposite. True forgiveness implies that the one in need of forgiveness needs help and that the one’s who are doing the forgiving have an obligation to help. Additional studies on the subject are the natural result of forgiveness whether it is in regard to a child’s test results or an individual’s personal sin. Unintentional sin many times is due to ignorance. This implies the need for further education on the subject. So when the general subject comes up, it is not because we are refusing to forgive, but because we have actually forgiven in the way that God wants us to forgive (2 Corinthians 2:5-11).

Our attitude toward personal correction will determine our ultimate estate in heaven. It is part of God’s plan that we accept the corrective efforts of our fellow Christian when it comes to personal sin (Matthew 18: 15-17). While it is not comfortable for us to do this and while sometimes it is a painful experience, we can be assured that God will bless those who appropriate display the right attitude toward personal correction. Ultimately, we will stand before God in judgment as to how we received these efforts. On the day of judgment, do we really want to stand before God and say that we were not receptive to other’s efforts to provide personal correction? Do we really want to face God with that attitude? How much more better is God’s plan to face our own peers now and make correction than to face Him when no more opportunity for correction is available.

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The Salvation of Cornelius

When looking at the cases of conversion within the book of Acts, the case of Cornelius and his household presents some unique challenges to understanding God’s plan for man’s salvation. The account of this conversion is found in Acts chapters 10 and 11. Cornelius conversion was unique in that he was the first Gentile to be converted to Christianity. This was not only revolutionary for the Gentiles, but for the Jews as well and herein lies additional uniqueness in his case. Does the unique nature of Cornelius case point to a unique plan of salvation on his part? Or is the unique nature of his case merely indicative of the need to bring the gospel to the gentiles? Let’s examine his case and see if we can come to an understanding of when Cornelius’ was saved.

First, when looking at the case of Cornelius we first notice that Cornelius was a good man. We read in Acts 10:2 that he was ” A devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” However, Cornelius was not saved simply because he was a good man. In Acts 11:14 we read that the angel that was sent to Cornelius said that Peter would “tell you words, by which you and all your household will be saved.” The phrase “will be saved” is in the future tense indicating that in the present, when the angel spoke the words to Cornelius, he was not saved. So Cornelius was not saved simply because he was a good man.

Second, when looking at the case of Cornelius, we notice that Cornelius spoke with an angel. In Acts 10:3, we read, “About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius!'” However, Cornelius was not saved simply because he saw an angel. The angel himself said to Cornelius, “Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea: he will tell you what you must do” (Acts 10:5, 6). There were some things that the angel said Cornelius needed “to do” and that he would hear these things from Peter. So more was needed than simply the presence of the angel. Moreover, we have divine warning regarding the possibility of angels teaching another gospel in Galatians 1:8. So the gospel had to be preached to Cornelius before he could be saved. The presence of the angel was not enough.

Third, we notice that Cornelius received an apostle into his house. In Acts 10:25 we read, “As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshipped him.” However, Cornelius was not saved simply because he received Peter into his house. In fact, Peter reproved Cornelius for his actions in bowing down to worship him. Acts 10:26 says, “But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself also am a man.'” Other parts of the Bible teach as well that we are not to worship anything but God. John the apostle once fell down before an angel, but the angel said “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellowservant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Revelation 22:9). The presence of an apostle was not enough.

Fourth we notice that Cornelius heard the word of the Lord preached. In Acts 10:33 Cornelius said, “Now therefore we are all present before God, to hear all things commanded you by God.” Cornelius was ready to hear the word of the Lord and he did hear the word of the Lord. However, it was not MERELY through hearing the word that they would be saved, for Peter says in Acts 10:43 “that through His name whosoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” In fact the Bible teaches in many other places that not only must we hear the gospel message, but also believe it; believing the gospel means so much more than just acknowledging it. Believing the gospel means that one is willing to submit to it in obedience. Hebrews 5:9 says that salvation is only for those who obey Jesus. In Romans 16:26, Paul writes that the gospel is made known for the purpose of people coming to obey it in faith. Without an obedient act of faith, salvation is not complete. Simply hearing the gospel was not enough.

Fifth we see that the Holy Spirit fell on those who heard the word and that they spoke in tongues. In Acts 10:44-46 we read, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.” Many at this point want to say that Cornelius was saved because the Holy Spirit could not have moved them to speak in tongues if they were not already saved. The argument is that the presence of the Holy Spirit and the ability to speak in tongues indicates that Cornelius and his house were saved. Is this true? First, the text does not even say that at this point Cornelius believed. He was told to believe, but the Bible simply does not say that he believed. One could argue forcefully that Cornelius did not need to believe to be saved if the Holy Spirit falling upon them was all that was needed for salvation (and die hard Calvinists do argue this). This makes faith unnecessary for salvation, which is obviously false. Second, the Bible does not teach that Holy Spirit activity necessarily indicates personal salvation. In fact, the Bible does not even teach that speaking in tongues indicates salvation. In Numbers 22:28-30 the Lord enabled a donkey to speak in tongues; was the donkey saved? Clearly this type of reasoning would indicate that the donkey was saved. However, clear thinking individuals will recognize that divine activity does not necessarily indicate salvation. Another such example is the high priest Caiaphas in John 11:51. Caiaphas had rejected Jesus and was plotting Jesus’ death, yet he prophesied that Jesus would die for the sins of the people. John even says “this he spake not of himself” indicating that the Holy Spirit was involved in the prophesy. Yet who would say that Caiaphas, the one who ordered the murder of Jesus, was saved? Here are two clear examples of Holy Spirit activity where personal salvation is obviously not implied. Third, the Bible teaches that speaking in tongues was a sign for the unbeliever (1 Corinthians 14:22). The unbelievers in this particular context were the Jews present with Peter. They did not believe that salvation was for the Gentiles. The Holy Spirit had to convince Peter and the other Jews that Cornelius and his house could be saved. Once this was done, Peter asks who can forbid baptism. Why would Peter say these words? He said them because he and the others recognized that salvation comes as a result of baptism (as he preached in Acts 2:38) and they could now touch and baptize these gentiles with God’s approval.

This leads us to the sixth event that might indicate the salvation of Cornelius and his household–his baptism. Remember, according to Acts 11:14 Cornelius and his house were going to be saved through WORDS which Peter told them. Moreover, according to Acts 10:33 Cornelius told Peter that they were ready to hear ALL that was commanded of God. Well, Peter had not yet finished giving the words that they needed to be saved and he had not yet finished giving all the commands of God until verse 48 of chapter 10 where we read, “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” Saying that Cornelius was not saved until he was baptized is consistent with the immediate context. It is also consistent with the remote context of the New Testament. This is what Jesus commanded his apostles to do in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15, 16. This is what Peter had already preached to the Jews in Acts 2:38. Baptism was the act of faith that Cornelius needed to perform in order to receive remission of sins (Acts 2:38; Acts 10:43). The command to be baptized was part of the words that Peter preached whereby Cornelius and his entire house would be saved (Acts 11:14). The command to be baptized was part of the commands that Cornelius was expecting to hear from the apostle (Acts 10:33). Peter considered it a necessity for Cornelius and the others by token that he did command it. And finally, the Holy Spirit considered it essential within the context of the conversion of Cornelius because he inspired Luke to write it.

The fact is that the rest of the Bible teaches clearly the purpose of baptism. Baptism is part of the process in making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Can one be saved without becoming a disciple? Baptism is for salvation (Mark 16:16). Baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Can one be saved without having the remission of sins? Baptism is a command of God (Acts 10:43). Can one be saved without obeying the command of God? Baptism is to wash away one’s sins (Acts 22:16). Can one be saved without having washed away one’s sins? In baptism we crucify the old man to destroy the body of sin (Romans 6:6). Can one be saved without putting to death the old man of sin? In baptism we are raised to walk in a new life (Romans 6:4). Can one be saved without walking in a new life? Baptism is the point where we put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). Can one be saved without putting on Christ? Baptism is for putting off the body of the sins of the flesh (Colossians 2:12). Can one be saved without putting off the body of the sins of the flesh? Baptism now saves us (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism is the response of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:21). Can we be saved without responding in a good conscience toward the call of God? Well, neither could Cornelius.

Cornelius’ case was unique in that he was the first gentile to whom the gospel was preached in the early church. His case was unique in that the Holy Spirit used him prior to his salvation to convince the unbelieving Jews that gentiles were candidates for salvation (Acts 10:45-47) and subsequent to his salvation to convince other unbelieving Jews that salvation had come to the gentiles (Acts 11:16-18). However, his case was not unique in that God provided for Cornelius salvation before he was baptized. The evidence from the scriptures as stated above simply does not warrant this conclusion. To suggest that Cornelius was saved prior to baptism and that all mankind can be saved prior to baptism is to contradict every single scripture in the Bible that teaches us the purpose of baptism. Let us resolve to accept the Bible teaching regarding baptism as an act of faith.

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Seeking A Better Country

The old spiritual song “Roll Jordon, Roll” states, “I want to go to heaven when I die.” This phrase epitomizes each and every Christian’s longing and desire for eternal life. It was stated concerning Abraham in the book of Hebrews 11:13-16:

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
In his sermon on faith, J.W. McGarvey says concerning Abraham,

. . . Abraham, by faith, lived in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promises, because he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. The Sodomites had built a city. Melchizedek, the high priest of God, was living in the city of Salem, close by. The Shechemites and others round about, had cities; and his friends, the Hittites, were living in the City of Hebron. He was a man of great wealth, and he could have built a palace in which to live, but he chose to live in a tent all his life. He was seventy-five years old when he left his native land, and one-hundred and seventy-five when he died; and through a round hundred years, he lived in a tent, by faith, because yonder was the city he was looking for, that had foundations sure enough, whose builder and maker is God, and he was so well pleased and satisfied with that, that he did not want anything better than a tent to live in here on earth. Sometimes I have thought that this was a greater evidence of Abraham’s faith than offering Isaac on the altar. It was a long strain, that one hundred years living in a tent and looking for that distant city. Conviction as to that unseen city which God hath built; confident expectation that after a long, weary journey, his life over, he would live in it with his children after him-this was his faith.
What a tremendous desire to go to heaven on the part of Abraham so that he would eschew life in a permanent earthly dwelling to remind him of his true home! This land in which we live today, this earthly tabernacle in which we are dwelling is only a fa�ade of that which is truly real. The earthly tabernacle in which we groan is illusory, temporal, and fleeting. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4:

For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
The “Better Country” is that country to which we can go eternally. That “Better Country” is that country in which there will be no dissolution of our bodies. That “Better Country” is the place where we will live in ultimate fellowship with God and Christ forever. Everything that we desire is laid up for us in that country. All of our aspirations and eternal blessing awaits those who lay up their treasures in that country. Can we see beyond the immediate affairs of this life, opening the heavenly visage and peering into the wonders of eternity? Can we, with the eyes of faith, gape at that grand and glorious Gibraltar?

And yet today, there are Christians who are binding themselves to this earth and stockpiling corruptible earthly treasures in place of eternal spiritual wonders. Oh Christian who doth so gaze, remember the words of Peter, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (2 Peter 2:11). Remember the exhortation of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Must we not confess that we are but strangers and pilgrims on our journey through this illusory life?

Let us then, seek for that “Better Country,” that “Heavenly Country”-the place where all hopes are fulfilled, where all dreams are realized, where all spiritual needs are satisfied, where there is no more sorrow or crying, no pain nor death, no heartache, no sighing, no loneliness, no fear. There is our home, our city, and our country! We are citizens of that great nation which exists in the presence of God. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20,21).

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. (Revelation 21:23-26)
Abraham’s country can be your country as well. Lift up your eyes and behold that wondrous place around which all hope hangs. Lift up your eyes to heaven and to The One who dwells therein (Psalm 123:1). With all the powers and might of our life, let us seek that better, heavenly, country.

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