How God Stretches Our Understanding

Moving beyond what we know

God designed our minds so that we can absorb new insights much more easily if we can connect it with something we already know. In other words, we move from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

So often Christ taught this way. He drew parallels between common things in everyday life and not-so-familiar spiritual concepts. He used figures of speech such as simile (“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . . .”) and metaphor (“I am the good shepherd . . . .”) (Matthew 13:31; John 10:11).

It’s remarkable how many different ways Jesus describes Himself. Jesus is too big for any one single comparison to be adequate. Jonah, for example, is quite unlike Jesus in some important ways, but in at least one narrow sense there is a parallel, and in that one respect Jesus draws an analogy  (Matthew 12:38-40).

The New Testament compares baptism to a birth (John 3:3-5) and to death (Romans 6:3-7). These are not contradictory but each comparison sheds light on a significant aspect of baptism. In one way baptism is an end (death to the old life of sin). In another sense it is a glorious beginning (a new birth).

Moving beyond what we’ve experienced

The Bible shows us how to have fellowship with the God who is both like us and not like us. The Bible prepares us for life beyond anything we’ve ever experienced. And so God uses His word to help us make that challenging transition from the physical world we are so familiar with to a life that far exceeds anything we’ve ever known.

God uses Scripture to develop in us a whole new way of seeing so that “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

What exciting vistas God lays out before us! Are we willing to move beyond the familiar here-and-now to the less familiar but far more wonderful then-and-there?

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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The Six Stages

The following are all the possible stages a person can experience from conception to eternity:

1. The womb

Reincarnation is not biblical. We come into existence at conception and not before (John 8:58; also compare the relative ages of John the Baptist and Jesus—Luke 1:36; John 1:15, 30).

Abortion is morally wrong because it fails to respect the sacredness of life in the womb (Genesis 25:21-23; Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:41-44).

2. Innocence

Infants and small children have no sin (Deuteronomy 1:39; Matthew 19:14). If they were to die at this stage of life, they would go to be with God.

3. Alienation

When we first sin we are separated from God and are destined for hell, unless we turn to God in faith, repentance, and obedience (Ephesians 2:1-13).

4. Reconciliation

New life in Christ begins at baptism (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12-13). We are restored to fellowship with God and now have hope!

5. Hades

At death the spirit separates from the body. The Hadean world is where the spirits of the dead await the Judgment (Luke 16:19-31; 23:43; Philippians 1:21-24).

Hades is not the same as hell (Matthew 10:28; 25:41; Revelation 21:8). At Jesus’ death His spirit went to the portion of Hades called Paradise (Acts 2:27, 31; Luke 23:43).

6. Heaven

When Christ returns, the righteous dead will be raised and be given glorious new bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). And then to live forever with God! What a glorious destiny awaits the faithful child of God!

We’ve all seen a diagram of a building or some other place that has printed on it, “You are here.” On our spiritual journey, where are we? Anyone reading this article is either in Stage 3 or Stage 4. If we stay in Stage 3, then our Stage 6 will not be heaven.

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Thinking Ahead

When our belongings start to crowd us

It would be interesting to know how many more storage units there are today, compared with 40 years ago.

Most of us are so abundantly blessed that we are running out of room to store all our stuff.

One of the benefits of Bible study is that it reminds us that material things are not what counts most.

A far better investment

Since possessions are so vulnerable to loss, Jesus reminds us that we can have treasures that are moth-proof, rust-proof, and theft-proof (Matthew 6:19-21). Heavenly treasure is the way to go!

The rich young ruler was unwilling to accept Jesus’ challenge to sacrifice his earthly wealth for heavenly treasure, by giving to the poor. So he walked sadly away (Matthew 19:16-22). Big mistake!

Better glad than sad

People keep making that same mistake. They can’t bring themselves to take Jesus’ word for it.

If we prudently lay aside an amount every paycheck for retirement, we are operating on the principle that we’ll benefit eventually. Someday we’ll be glad we planned ahead and made whatever sacrifice was necessary.

Small children usually don’t think very far ahead. They want it NOW! As we grow older, ideally, we mature to the point where we are willing to defer gratification.

Laying up treasure in heaven by giving to those in need is the ultimate extension of this principle. God promises us that if we’ll do His will and depend on His grace, we will be glad someday. Very glad!

If it’s wise to plan for retirement, how much wiser to plan for eternity!

Retirement lasts a few years at most. But eternity . . . .

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And What About the In-Between?

Joy at the start/Joy at the finish

The Christian life begins with a BANG! All our sins are washed away, and the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts (Acts 2:38; 22:16).

No wonder after baptism the Ethiopian “went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:38-39), and the Philippian jailer “rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household” (Acts 16:34).

Finally, the Christian life culminates in being ushered into God’s presence–joys forever!

And for now?

How can we rejoice between the starting block and the finish line?

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Joy depends on what we know: “. . . we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope . . .”  (Romans 5:3-4).

“For you . . . accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one” (Hebrews 10:34).

What they knew we can know. What they knew brought them joy, and it still does!

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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Follow the Directions

When my dad asked for directions on a trip, there were two things he hated to hear. One was: “You can’t miss it!” The other: “Now there’s another way you can go . . . .”

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The trip of a lifetime!

Life has no greater destination than heaven. God has given us the route in His word.

But He never said, “You can’t miss it.” Oh, but we can–by failing to follow directions (Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23).

Nor has God said, “There’s another way you can go.” There’s only one way: Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

The destination we can’t afford to miss!

That may not be politically correct, but it is correct, nonetheless.

While there is only one way, thank God, there is a way!

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