Thursday, February 19, 2009

“Second death” and “book of life” study

When I was discussing the use of litotes in Revelation in regards to the promises to the overcomer concerning the “second death” as well as in regards to the “book of life”, I was hit with a “eureka” moment.

Those that reason incorrectly from Revelation 2:11 and then teach that non-overcoming believers will suffer being hurt by the “second death” must then use their same faulty hermeneutics and so translate Revelation 3:5 as indicating the Lord will also blot non-overcomers names out of His book of life! Uh-oh . . .

Think about this awhile . . .

Let’s see how this initially faulty scripture interpretation leads to more error.

Walk the path of error with me a bit now . . .

Believers found as carnal, back-slidden, rebellious, asleep, unprepared, foolish, lazy of spirit, and such, being non-overcoming – and thus being overcome by the world, the flesh, and the devil will be removed from the book of life? Friends, having one’s name not found in the book of life means eternal damnation according to scripture. So believers can lose their salvation? I think not!

If teachers of the overcomer theory, also teach the error of believers being hurt of the “second death” -- and thus by their own textural expounding methods, must then apply them to believers having their names removed from the book of life – it follows logically that these errant teachers must now throw out the doctrine of eternal security. They must also throw out salvation of the lost as not by faith alone but are now in the camp of the “Jesus And” teachers. They must admit that their doctrine of salvation from eternal death is linked to works and is not a salvation of grace alone. So God’s gift for them has small print engraved where the believer can’t find it until too late.

One teacher of this error of believers suffering the hurt of the second death and also being cast into the lake of fire, has tried valiantly to say that the “lake of fire” for believers is only metaphor, with no literal flames, lasting 1,000 years, and is a different “lake of fire” than that the damned will be cast into. Excuse me? Where is this in the scriptures? So, will they then tell me later after reading this paper that, the non-overcomer will have their name only temporarily removed from the book of life and then re-written at the end of the millennial reign of Christ and the Bride? You see now how error breeds more error.

I respect no man, care not about their length of time teaching, nor their degrees, nor the amount of books or writings written and I care only about one thing. Are they rightly dividing the word? If they err in one area, I fear their doctrine elsewhere is flawed. May the Lord break in and free us from intellectual pride and/or deception the enemy offers us! He loves confusion! Be wary of the Adversary!

Below are key scriptures for your study relating to my aforementioned comments.

May God bless your journey to His highest calling in Christ!


Psalm 69:28 (Darby Translation)
28 Let them be blotted out of the book of life, and not be written with the righteous.

Philippians 4:3 (Darby Translation)
3 yea, I ask thee also, true yokefellow, assist them, who have contended along with me in the glad tidings, with Clement also, and my other fellow-labourers, whose names [are] in [the] book of life.

Revelation 3:5 (Darby Translation)
5 He that overcomes, *he* shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life, and will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.

Revelation 13:7-9 (Darby Translation)
7 And there was given to it, (the beast, the AntiChrist), to make war with the saints, and to overcome them; and there was given to it authority over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation;
8 and all that dwell on the earth shall do it homage, [every one] whose name had not been written from [the] founding of [the] world in the book of life of the slain Lamb.
9 If any one has an ear, let him hear.

Revelation 17:7-9 (Darby Translation)
7 And the angel said to me, Why hast thou wondered? *I* will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast which carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.
8 The beast which thou sawest was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go into destruction: and they who dwell on the earth, whose names are not written from the founding of the world in the book of life, shall wonder, seeing the beast, that it was, and is not, and shall be present.
9 Here is the mind that has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains, whereon the woman sits.

Revelation 20:11-15 (Darby Translation)
11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled, and place was not found for them.
12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is [that] of life. And the dead were judged out of the things written in the books according to their works.
13 And the sea gave up the dead which [were] in it, and death and hades gave up the dead which [were] in them; and they were judged each according to their works:
14 and death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, [even] the lake of fire.
15 And if any one was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.

Revelation 21 (Darby Translation)
1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea exists no more.
2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of the heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice out of the heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God [is] with men, and he shall tabernacle with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, their God.
4 And he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall not exist any more, nor grief, nor cry, nor distress shall exist any more, for the former things have passed away.
5 And he that sat on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he says [to me], Write, for these words are true and faithful.
6 And he said to me, It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to him that thirsts of the fountain of the water of life freely.
7 He that overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be to him God, and he shall be to me son.
8 But to the fearful and unbelieving, [and sinners], and those who make themselves abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part [is] in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.
9 And there came one of the seven angels which had had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and spoke with me, saying, Come here, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife.
10 And he carried me away in [the] Spirit, [and set me] on a great and high mountain, and shewed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of the heaven from God,
11 having the glory of God. Her shining [was] like a most precious stone, as a crystal-like jasper stone;
12 having a great and high wall; having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names inscribed, which are those of the twelve tribes of [the] sons of Israel.
13 On [the] east three gates; and on [the] north three gates; and on [the] south three gates; and on [the] west three gates.
14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15 And he that spoke with me had a golden reed [as] a measure, that he might measure the city, and its gates, and its wall.
16 And the city lies four-square, and its length [is] as much as the breadth. And he measured the city with the reed -- twelve thousand stadia: the length and the breadth and height of it are equal.
17 And he measured its wall, a hundred [and] forty-four cubits, [a] man's measure, that is, [the] angel's.
18 And the building of its wall [was] jasper; and the city pure gold, like pure glass:
19 the foundations of the wall of the city [were] adorned with every precious stone: the first foundation, jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald;
20 the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprasus; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst.
21 And the twelve gates, twelve pearls; each one of the gates, respectively, was of one pearl; and the street of the city pure gold, as transparent glass.
22 And I saw no temple in it; for the Lord God Almighty is its temple, and the Lamb.
23 And the city has no need of the sun nor of the moon, that they should shine for it; for the glory of God has enlightened it, and the lamp thereof [is] the Lamb.
24 And the nations shall walk by its light; and the kings of the earth bring their glory to it.
25 And its gates shall not be shut at all by day, for night shall not be there.
26 And they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations to it.
27 And nothing common, nor that maketh an abomination and a lie, shall at all enter into it; but those only who [are] written in the book of life of the Lamb.


John 5:28-30 (New International Version)
28 "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice
29 and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” (words of Jesus)
Hebrews 11:35-36 (New International Version)
35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.
36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.

Philippians 3:8-15 (Darby Translation)
8 But surely I count also all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ;
9 and that I may be found in him, not having my righteousness, which [would be] on the principle of law, but that which is by faith of Christ, the righteousness which [is] of God through faith,
10 to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death,
11if any way I arrive at the resurrection** from among [the] dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained [the prize], or am already perfected; but I pursue, if also I may get possession [of it], seeing that also I have been taken possession of by Christ [Jesus].
13 Brethren, *I* do not count to have got possession myself; but one thing -- forgetting the things behind, and stretching out to the things before,
14 I pursue, [looking] towards [the] goal, for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus.
15 As many therefore as [are] perfect, let us be thus minded; and if ye are any otherwise minded, this also God shall reveal to you.

**(resurrection word in our bible in the original language is exanastasin or exanastasis from ek = out of or from + anistemi = to rise up, which can be read as the “out-resurrection”)

Revelation 2:10-11 (Darby Translation)
10 Fear nothing [of] what thou art about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give to thee the crown of life.
11 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. He that overcomes shall in no wise be injured of the second death.

Revelation 20:5-7 (Darby Translation)
5 the rest of the dead did not live till the thousand years had been completed. This [is] the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy he who has part in the first resurrection: over these the second death has no power; but they shall be priests of God and of the Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
7 And when the thousand years have been completed, Satan shall be loosed from his prison,

Revelation 20:13-15 (Darby Translation)
13 And the sea gave up the dead which [were] in it, and death and hades gave up the dead which [were] in them; and they were judged each according to their works:
14 and death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, [even] the lake of fire.
15 And if any one was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.

Revelation 21:7-9 (Darby Translation)
7 He that overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be to him God, and he shall be to me son.
8 But to the fearful and unbelieving, [and sinners], and those who make themselves abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part [is] in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.
9 And there came one of the seven angels which had had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and spoke with me, saying, Come here, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Christians hurt by the second death? I think not."

I realize that there are variety of ideas out there as to just what happens to unfaithful, foolish, unprepared, carnal, lawless, and essentially non-overcoming believers and exactly where they will find themselves during the millennial reign of the Lord.

I have been told and read from many, many sources that they will suffer loss and experience deep regret, missing out on ruling and reigning with Christ. They will not have the joy and rewards as being part of the Bride of Christ. They will suffer shame and sorrow, being banished to a confining place of discipline and separation from the glorious presence of the Lord for 1,000 years (during the Millennium).
This is typically referred to as "outer darkness" and by others as being the same place as Gehenna and/or even the "lake of fire"!

Wait a minute!

Yes, there are some that teach that "outer darkness" = Gehenna = "the lake of fire" but I am not so sure these teachers rightly divide the word. The idea of believers in ANY type of "lake of fire" seems clearly against the teaching of the word as I see it.

I am not going to name names here but I have discussed this real problem and issue with a bible teacher stating that non-overcomers will "be hurt of the second death" which is a non-literal but metaphorical "lake of fire". Hunh? When I discussed how confusing this is and requested clarification and/or a better explanation of how this "lake of fire" is not fiery -- no answer was offered. So what now? I did ask. I am still waiting . . .

This morning, I began word study of terms related to this issue and as I was saving scriptures and tieing them together, my PC burped, ate all traces of the document though it was saved repeatedly. I even used Directory Snoop to find its binary traces but it had vanished! So, I thought, okay Lord, I will take that as an indicator to cease that approach. So, I did a web search of the keywords "overcomer 'second death' " and found the very interesting info below which I share with you later.

So, it seems one of the proof-texts being offered by some teachers to say that non-overcoming Christians can be hurt of the "second death" or the "lake of fire" most likely is NOT saying that at all! Will these teachers I spoke with ever contact me again to further support their ideas? I sorta doubt it.

In the meanwhile, I am staying fast with accepting the enigma called "outer darkness" being just that, the "darkness of the outside" or perhaps we could call this place of non-overcomers' discipline -- "The Lord's Time-out Room" for his very, very naughty children. The Lord I know, won't torture, burn, scream at, or torment His own! Never!

As Jesus simply looked at Peter after Peter's denial, that crushed Peter into sorrowful repentance -- that is most likely what many non-overcoming Christians will experience. The very life-choices they made that shut them out of entering into His rest and not having portion in His glorious kingdom, the memories of their rebellion, and a decision for independent lawlessness will plague the non-overcomers and they will seek restitution and forgiveness like Esau wailing to the father over his lost birthright. I am imagining that "The Lord's Time-out Room" will oddly reflect and echo each believer's wasted life back at them for century after century until at last they will see the truth of overcoming via suffering and in humbled obedience be made right for the post-millennial eternity to come.

That being said, have a careful read through the teachings below, that swayed me, far away from any Christian ever needing to fear being hurt of the second death.
God bless your journey!


Studies in Revelation (chapter 2, verse 11)
J. Hampton Keathley, III , Th.M.
The Challenge and Assurance (verse 11)

The promise to the overcomer is that he shall not be hurt by the second death. The second death is eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:1, 14). Believers may face physical death, but because they have had a second birth (John 3:3-7), no believer will ever face the second death (Eph. 2:1, 5; John 5:24; 11:25). Then, why this promise? Does this imply the possibility of the loss of eternal life? Regardless of what this passage means, it is an emphatic negation of the possibility. Some in Smyrna, as Polycarp, would die a martyr’s death, so the Lord is reminding them of this fact.

To overcome means here to remain faithful to the Lord even if it meant death. Here our Lord was simply reminding them that though some would die for Him, the second death could never touch them. The use of this negative promise, “will not be hurt …” is a literary device known as litotes. This is a rhetorical device used to affirm the positive by a negation. Hodges has a good explanation of litotes.
If someone says to me, “His request presented me with no small problem,” I know exactly what he means. The person who made the request of him had presented him a BIG problem!

In the phrase “no small problem” we have a very common figure of speech. Its technical name is “litotes” (pronounced, lie’-tuh-tease’). Litotes occurs when an affirmative idea is expressed by the negation of its opposite. In the sentence we started with, the affirmative idea is that the problem is very large. The phrase “no small problem” negates the opposite idea.41

Concerning the positive or affirmative emphasis behind the use of litotes, Hodges continues and writes:

What is the positive idea which it understates? Fortunately, the context helps us. In verse 10 we read: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The Smyrnan Christians are challenged to face possible martyrdom with courage and fidelity to God. Their reward for doing so will be a superlative experience of life in the world to come. So to speak, they will be “crowned” with the enjoyment of life “more abundant” (see John 10:10).

In this light, Revelation 2:11 can be seen as truly an understatement. The overcomer (that is, the faithful Christian) will be more than amply repaid for whatever sacrifice he may make for Christ’s sake. His experience will be truly wonderful—far, far beyond the reach—the touch—of the second death. That is to say, this conquering Christian is as far above the experience-level of eternal death as it is possible to be.

In a masterly understatement, the Lord Jesus says in effect: “The first death may ‘hurt’ you briefly, the second not at all!”42

But perhaps there is something else here. The word “hurt” is the Greek adikew, “to injure, to hurt or do harm” (cf. Rev. 6:6; 7:2-3; 9:4, 10, 19; 11:5). It may also be used in a broader sense of “do wrong” (cf. Rev. 22:11). So, is there a way in which a believer can be said to be hurt or harmed by the second death? Unbelievers who persecute believers and who seek to get them to recant or renounce their faith in Christ are in some ways the personification of the second death and are not only acting out of their spiritual death against the believer, but are themselves, headed for the second death. So, when a believer fails to overcome the trial and recants because of the pain of the persecution, would he not then be hurt or harmed by the second death because he would then have lost his reward (2:11)?

Many believe that Smyrna represents the martyr period of the church, the church in extreme persecution under the Roman emperors. One classic illustration of this is in the true story of one of the great church fathers named, Polycarp. According to Ignatius, not long after the book of Revelation was written, he became the pastor of Smyrna and died a martyr’s death for his faith. The following is from the Martyrdom of Polycarp, translated by J. B. Lightfoot.

9:3 But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, ‘Swear the oath, and I will release thee; revile the Christ,’ Polycarp said, ‘Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’

10:1 But on his persisting again and saying, ‘Swear by the genius of Caesar,’ he answered, ‘If thou supposest vainly that I will swear by the genius of Caesar, as thou sayest, and feignest that thou art ignorant who I am, hear thou plainly, I am a Christian. But if thou wouldest learn the doctrine of Christianity, assign a day and give me a hearing.’

10:2 The proconsul said; ‘Prevail upon the people.’ But Polycarp said; ‘As for thyself, I should have held thee worthy of discourse; for we have been taught to render, as is meet, to princes and authorities appointed by God such honor as does us no harm; but as for these, I do not hold them worthy, that I should defend myself before them.’

11:1 Whereupon the proconsul said; ‘I have wild beasts here and I will throw thee to them, except thou repent’ But he said, ‘Call for them: for the repentance from better to worse is a change not permitted to us; but it is a noble thing to change from untowardness to righteousness.’

11:2 Then he said to him again, ‘I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, if thou despisest the wild beasts, unless thou repent.’ But Polycarp said; ‘Thou threatenest that fire which burneth for a season and after a little while is quenched: for thou art ignorant of the fire of the future judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why delayest thou? Come, do what thou wilt.’43

Walvoord writes:

The Faithfulness of Polycarp to the end seems to have characterized this church in Smyrna in its entire testimony and resulted in this church’s continuous faithful witness for God after many others of the early churches had long lost their …
… The purifying fires of affliction caused the lamp of testimony to burn all the more brilliantly. The length of their trial, described here as being ten days, whether interpreted literally or not, is short in comparison with the eternal blessings which would be theirs when their days of trial were over. They could be comforted by the fact that the sufferings of this present time do not continue forever, and the blessings that are ours in Christ through His salvation and precious promises will go on through eternity.44

41 Zane C. Hodges, Grace Evangelical News, electronic version.
42 Hodges, Grace Evangelical News, electronic version.
43 Martyrdom of Polycarp, translated by J. B. Lightfoot, electronic format.
44 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, pp. 64-65.


Studies in Revelation (chapter 3, verse 5)
J. Hampton Keathley, III , Th.M.
The Certainties Promised

They are next comforted and assured by calling their attention to certain verities or certainties that the Lord promises to every believer in Christ. The certainties come in three distinct parts: (a) arrayed in white garments, (b) name not to be blotted out, and (c) their name confessed before His Father.

The White Garments (5a)

“Walking with Christ in white” is a reward for faithfulness. Note that the reason given in 3:4 is stated in the words, “for (the causal use of %oti, “because”) they are worthy.” The worthiness here is linked to the fact that these were believers “who have not defiled their garments.” This shows us that walking with Him in white is a reward for personal righteousness or deeds of righteousness. Note also how this fits with Revelation 19:8. Walking in white must refer to the white garment of fine linen mentioned in Revelation 19:8. There we are told the bride of Christ (the church) is “… to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean.” This is then declared to be the righteous acts of the saints, a reference to deeds or acts of righteousness produced in the life of the believer by the Holy Spirit because only these deeds will stand the test of the Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:13).
No person is ever worthy of salvation righteousness. Justification, or salvation righteousness, is a gift given through faith in the finished work of Christ. It is based on His worthiness and record, not ours (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-7), but the white garment mentioned in 3:5 is related to the garment of 3:4 and is given as a reward for a worthy walk. While some writers assume that all Christians will wear these white garments in the kingdom, this verse teaches us that only overcoming believers, those who haven’t defiled their garments (verse 4), will wear these particular garments representative of the righteous acts of the saints in the kingdom.

His Name Never to be Erased (5b)

In verse 5, the overcomer is also promised he can never have his name erased from the Book of life. Could this suggest the possibility of the loss of salvation? Such a concept is totally contrary to the analogy of the faith in the New Testament which teaches us all believers are kept secure by the power of God and the finished work of Christ (cf. John 10:28-29; Rom. 8:38-39). As Charles Stanley so aptly put it, “Does it make any sense to say that salvation is offered as a solution for our sin and then to turn around and teach that salvation can be taken away because of our sin as well?”53

Because so many do not understand the nature of salvation as a finished work of God in Christ and are insecure in their faith, verses such as this are misunderstood as suggesting the possibility of the loss of salvation, or as a proof for the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. This results in a fixation on what the verse does not say rather than on what it is saying in the context biblically, historically, and culturally. This verse was never intended as a warning. Instead, it is a promise of encouragement in view of the historical setting of John’s day. To say that verse 5 suggests the possibility of losing salvation is at best, an argument from silence.
If we understand the promise of 3:5 in its historical and contextual context, we will find that it is not dealing with the issue of losing or proving salvation at all. By the use of a figure of speech known as litotes (an affirmation expressed in negative terms), we have an emphatic declaration that stresses the certainty of the promise. In other words, a positive point is made by denying its opposite. This not only stresses the security of the believer—for every believer’s name is written in the book of life—but is a way of promising something special to the overcomer in the kingdom and eternal future. Bob Wilkin, who agrees with this view, quotes William Fuller and writes:

William Fuller, who defends this understanding of Rev 3:5, writes, “A command that everyone keeps is superfluous, and a reward that everyone receives for a virtue that everyone has is nonsense.” The eternal-rewards interpretation takes the command seriously, views the reward as a powerful motivation to obedience, and doesn’t distort the Gospel!54

Tatford also interprets Revelation 3:5 in a similar way when he writes,
Practically every city of that day kept a role or register of its citizens … one who had performed some great exploit, deserving of special distinction, was honoured by having his name inscribed in golden letters in the citizens’ roll. Our Lord’s emphatic statement, therefore, implies not merely that the name of the overcomer shall not be expunged, but per contra that it shall be inscribed in golden letters in the heavenly roll.55

There is even evidence that a person’s name was sometimes removed from the city register before death if he had been convicted of a crime.56 When these messages were written, Christians were under the constant threat of being branded as social rebels and stripped of their citizenship if they refused to recant or denounce their faith in Christ. So here, as a source of motivation and encouragement, the Lord personally reminds the overcomer not only of the safety of his heavenly citizenship, but of the special acknowledgment the Lord Himself will give before the Father and before His angels.

His Name Confessed Before the Father and His Angels (5c)

As just indicated, this promise is related to the previous promise and may really be a part of that promise. It is likewise not dealing with salvation, but with reward by way of an accolade, a special acknowledgment or public recognition for faithfulness. Again we need to keep in mind the historical background mentioned above. Though the overcomer may experience blame and ridicule and loss of citizenship before the world because he or she refuses to follow after the world or bow to its threats, the overcomer will experience special reward in the form of public recognition. Undoubtedly, special accolades like, “well done, you good and faithful servant,” is in mind.

. . .

Some final lessons:

(1) The means for living the Christian life so vital for spiritual reality is a knowledge and a careful application of the Word through the various ministries of the Spirit.

(2) The signs of a successful church, one truly in touch with God is not names, noses, and numbers, but Christlikeness. How much do the people of the church demonstrate the Savior in their personal lives, in their families, in their values, priorities, ministry, etc.? It is never just activity or works or size or reputation. Activities and reputations by themselves are never a proof of true spirituality.

(3) Genuine godliness is the foundation of moral goodness. Moral goodness is always incomplete and on the verge of degeneration without godliness through the Spirit and the Word with its absolute truth.

(4) God is always faithful to reward His people for their faithfulness to Him. Salvation is by faith alone, sola fide, in Christ alone, but rewards are the product of overcoming faith in the life of Christ appropriated in the Christian’s life.

53 Charles Stanley, Eternal Security, Can You Be Sure? Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1990, p. 181.
54 J. William Fuller, “I Will Not Erase His Name from the Book of Life (Rev 3:5),” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Sept. 1983), p. 299, quoted by Bob Wilkin, Grace Evangelical News, March, 1995.
55 Fredk. A. Tatford, Prophecy’s Last Word, p. 63.
56 Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 450.


I Will Not Blot Out His Name *
by Bob Wilkin

He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
-Revelation 3:5

Can a believer lose his salvation or be erased from the Book of Life if he does not overcome (Rev 3:5)? This seems to contradict John 5:24 and Eph 2:8-9 which view everlasting life as a free and secure gift. Or, does it mean that a believer who is truly saved will automatically produce good works and overcome? This seems to contradict Romans 6-7 which views the Christian walk as a struggle and a choice that every believer must make for himself.

Those are excellent questions. In them we see two possible interpretations and the difficulties with each. Neither of the two interpretations can be harmonized with the clear teaching of other Scripture.

The Loss-of-Salvation View

The problem with the loss-of-salvation view is that it clearly contradicts a host of passages. Jesus taught that believers "will never perish" (John 10:28), "shall not come into judgment" (John 5:24), and "have [already] passed from death into life" (John 5:24). The apostle Paul told the believers at Rome that "neither death nor life...nor things present nor things to come...shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord;" (Rom 8:38-39). To the believers at Ephesus he wrote, "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). And to the believers at Thessalonica he said that "whether we wake or sleep [i.e., whether we are morally alert or indolent], we should live together with Him" (1 Thess 5:10).

The Overcoming-Equals Faithful-Obedience View

According to this view all genuine believers overcome the world by living godly lives. One author writes: "John was so confident of the ultimate triumph of faith over sin that he had a special name for the believer: 'the one who overcomes' (1 John 5:5; Rev 2:7, 11, 26 ;3:5, 12, 21; 21:7).;"1 Notice that he equates overcoming with "the ultimate triumph of faith over sin.;" Based on the context of these remarks, it is clear the author is referring to some ultimate triumph of faith over sin in this life.2

According to what has come to be called the Reformed Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, all true believers persevere in a life of godliness. While there may be temporary setbacks and bouts with sin, believers are people who live victorious, holy lives to the end. People who hold the overcoming-equals-faithful-obedience interpretation of our verse understand it in light of that doctrine.
There is a major problem with this interpretation. The Bible does not promise that all true believers will live victorious, holy lives.3 Believers may have more than temporary setbacks and bouts with sin. It is sadly possible for believers to backslide terribly and to remain in that backslidden state until death. Certainly the church at Corinth was hardly a picture of believers experiencing ultimate victory over sin in their lives ( cf. 1 Cor 3:1-3; 11:30; see also Gal 6:1-5; Jas 5:19-20; and 1 John 5:16)!

I'm not saying that eternal security is not true. As already shown above, it is. What I am saying is that there is no guarantee in Scripture that eternally secure people will live overcoming, victorious lives here and now. Believers can fail.

The Overcoming-Equals-Faith View

There is a variation of the view just discussed which recognizes the possibility of failure in the Christian life. The overcoming-equals-faith view suggests that faith--not faithfulness-- is the victory. All believers are overcomers the moment they believe. The very act of believing overcomes the world: "Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:5).

While I am unaware of anyone who has put this view in writing, I know a number of people who hold it. I myself held this view for several years. It wasn't until I studied the seven letters of Revelation 2-3 during my doctoral work that I concluded that this wasn't what the Lord had in mind by the use of the word overcomer in Revelation.

It is true that 1 John 5:5 teaches that our faith overcomes the world. It is a mistake, however, to conclude that because John so used that expression in one place, he must have used it the same way in all other places. The contexts in which the expression is found in Revelation 2-3 are greatly different than the context of 1 John 5:5.

The second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation are seven letters to seven churches. Whereas 1 John 5:5 says that one overcomes by faith, the seven letters say that one overcomes by works (or by faith plus works). Consider, for example, these statements:

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works...To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (2:5, 7b).

Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (2:10).

And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I give power over the nations (2:26).

Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown (3:11).

To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne4 (3:21).

The question thus remains what does Rev 3:5 mean?

The Eternal-Rewards View

According to this view, genuine believers are in view and their salvation is not in question. Admittedly, some suggest that since churches sometimes contain unbelievers, then these seven letters may have been addressed to both believers and unbelievers. However, in a biblical sense churches never contain unbelievers. Churches are not buildings or social gatherings. Churches are assemblies of believers. Since the Lord was writing to churches, he was writing exclusively to believers.

This is supported by the fact that in none of the seven letters do we find a Gospel appeal.5 The word faith only occurs twice in these letters (Rev 2:13, 19) and in both cases it is affirming the fact that the readers already have faith, not calling them to believe. Surely if these seven letters were addressed to unbelievers, we would find repeated calls to trust in Christ. Instead, we find none.

There are several lines of evidence from the text of Rev 3:3-5 which support the eternal-rewards interpretation. We will consider this evidence before we discuss the meaning of the words, "I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life."

I Will Come Upon You As a Thief

Verse 3 is a warning: "If you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know the hour I will come upon you." Calls to watchfulness in light of the Lord's imminent return as a thief are found in several other places in the NT. Salvation isn't in view in any of those places. Rather, they deal with the prospect of eternal rewards.6

In 1 Thess 5:10, a context dealing with Christ's return "as a thief in the night" (5:2), Paul wrote "[Christ] died for us, that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with Him." In context "waking"7 was used metaphorically to mean walking in the light, being sober, faithful, and loving. On the other hand "sleeping" meant to walk in the darkness to be drunk, unfaithful, and unloving (1 Thess 5:4-8). Paul was saying that all believers will be raptured, whether they are morally alert or asleep, when Christ returns for them. The believer who is morally asleep when Christ returns is not overcoming. Yet he will live together with Him as well!

They Are Worthy

Verse 4 reads, "You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy." The worthiness here is linked to the fact that these were believers "who have not defiled their garments." Clearly Jesus isn't praising them for using Tide on their togs! That is a figurative way of saying that there were a few who had not walked in disobedience. Compare Rev 22:14 8 and Jas 1:27 and Jude 23.

Walking with Christ in white garments must be seen as a reward. Otherwise Christ is teaching salvation by works here! We know from Jesus' teachings and from the entire Bible that no one but Christ is worthy to be in God's kingdom because of his or her deeds. We are only worthy to enter God's kingdom because we have trusted in the Worthy One. This is compelling proof that the issue here is not salvation, but rewards.

He Shall Be Clothed in White Garments

Verse 5 refers again to being clothed in white. The Lord makes it clear that the person in question is an overcomer. While some assume that all Christians will wear these white garments in the kingdom, this verse suggests that only overcoming believers, those who haven't defiled their garments (v 4), will wear these garments in the kingdom.

This verse suggests that believers will not be clothed identically in the kingdom. Some will wear special white garments. These special garments will signify that the wearer is one who honored Christ until the end of his or her Christian experience.
Peter, James, and John caught a glimpse of what these glorious garments will be like. When Jesus was transfigured before them, "His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light" (Matt 17:2). It may well be that the brightness of an overcomer's clothes will be proportional to how Christlike he or she was in this life (cf. 1 Pet 4:13).

I Will Confess His Name

This is rewards language. Jesus will acknowledge faithful believers before the Father and before His angels. Compare Matt 10:32-33 and Luke 19:11-19. He will say "Well done, good servant" (Luke 19:17). This is a reward that faithful believers will receive. It is not a condition of entrance into the kingdom.
There still remains the question of what the Lord meant by the words, "I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life." As we shall now see, this expression fits well with the eternal-rewards view.

I Won't Blot Out His Name

Several things should be observed in relation to this expression. First, whatever it means, it can't contradict other Scripture or the clear meaning of the rest of the passage and of other Scripture.

Second, many read it as though it says, "He who doesn't overcome I will blot out his name..." It doesn't say that. It is important to note that this verse doesn't say anything about the fate of those who don't overcome. It certainly doesn't say that God will blot the non-overcomer's name out of the Book of Life. The focus here is on the overcomer, not on the non-overcomer.

If I said, "All fathers are men," that wouldn't mean that the opposite is true, that all men are fathers. There are men who aren't fathers. In the same way, the corollary to our verse is not true. God will not blot out the name of the non-overcoming believer from the Book of Life! Once a person has spiritual life, it can never be taken away (cf. John 10:28-29; 1 John 5:12)

Third, there is a well-established figure of speech called litotes or understatement In this figure of speech a positive point is made by denying its opposite. For example, imagine that a loving, committed mother said to her teenage son, "If you mow the yard today, I won't send you to bed without dinner." Let's assume that the mother had previously guaranteed him that she would never send him to bed without supper. He would thus know that even if he didn't mow the yard,he would get dinner. His mom was promising him a special meal if he mowed the yard.

So, too, when the Lord says that He won't blot the name of the overcoming believer from the Book of Life, He means that He will give the overcomer a special fullness of life forever.9

We know some of what this superlative experience will include: wearing special white garments (Rev 3:4-5), ruling with Christ (Rev 2:26-27; 3:21), eating the fruit of the tree of life (Rev 2:7), eating hidden manna (Rev 2:17), and receiving a white stone engraved with your own special name that only the Lord and you will know (Rev 2:17). None of these things is equivalent to eternal salvation. None of these things is required for kingdom entrance. These are all rewards awaiting the overcoming believer.

We don't know all that is in store for the overcoming believer. But from what we are told in the seven letters, we know that it will be something no one will want to miss.

William Fuller, who defends this understanding of Rev 3:5, writes, "A command that everyone keeps is superfluous, and a reward that everyone receives for a virtue that everyone has is nonsense." 10 The eternal-rewards interpretation takes the command seriously, views the reward as a powerful motivation to obedience, and doesn't distort the Gospel!


The Lord Jesus Christ wants every believer to overcome the world by living a faithful Christian life until He returns or until death. He promises special rewards for the Christian who overcomes. Those rewards include a special fullness of life alluded to in the understatement, "He who overcomes ... I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life."

Jesus said, "I came that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10b). All believers have, and will forever have, life. Only overcoming believers have, and will forever have, life more abundantly. Paul echoed this same theme when he ended his letter to the Galatians with these words: "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart" (Gal 6:9).

*This article is taken from an upcoming book slated for publication this fall. The book, entitled Grace in Focus: Tough Texts in a New Light will explain thirty difficult NT passages on six topics: saving faith, assurance, eternal security, perseverance, rewards, and Lordship Salvation.

1 John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, Revised and Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988, 1994), p. 253.

2 Ibid., pp. 252-54. See also pp. 123-33, 134-40, 141-48, 164-72, 188-94.

3 For further discussion see Robert Nicholas Wilkin's, An Exegetical Evaluation of the Reformed Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, an unpublished Master's thesis (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1982).

4 Emphasis supplied. Clearly Jesus' overcoming included both faith and works (cf. John 4:34; 19:30; Heb 12:2). This means that the overcoming He is calling for likewise includes works.

5 Revelation 3:20 is not a Gospel appeal. It is addressed to Christians and is inviting them to have fellowship with Christ. The figure of opening the door is an illustration of the preceding verse. To "open the door" we must "be zealous and repent." That is, we must be zealous for good works and repent of our sinful attitudes and actions (cf. 3:15-18).

6 See, for example, Matt 24:45-51; 25:1-13; and 1 Pet 5:1-11.

7 This is the same Greek verb (gregoreo) as the word translated watch in Rev 3:3. This word also occurs earlier in the context of 1 Thessalonians 5 in verse 6 (where it is translated watch).

8 There is a textual variant here. The Majority Text reads, "Blessed are those who do His commandments." The so-called Critical Text reads, "Blessed are those who wash their robes." These readings show that scribes understood these two concepts to be synonymous in the Book of Revelation.

9 For further discussion see Zane C. Hodges's, Grace in Eclipse, Second Edition (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1985, 1987), pp. 109-111 and 119-20.
10 J. William Fuller, "I Will Not Erase His Name from the Book of Life' (Rev 3:5)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Sept.1983), p. 299.


Being Erased from the Book of Life?
Revelation 3:5
by Bob Wilkin

I recently received the following question from a GES News reader regarding Revelation 3:5.

Dear Bob,
Revelation 3:5 is one passage that has been very hard for me to understand and clarify. My question is, can a believer lose his salvation or be erased from the book of life if he does not overcome? This seems to contradict John 5:24 and Ephesians 2:8-9 which seem to view everlasting life as a free and secure gift. Or, does it mean that a believer who is truly saved will automatically produce good works and overcome? This seems to contradict Romans 6-7 which views that Christian walk as a struggle and a choice that every believer must make for himself.

Christ's Blessings,
Mark Goeglein
Upland, Indiana

Dear Mark,
I like the treatment of this verse that is found in the second edition of the book Grace in Eclipse by GES board member Zane Hodges.1 His discussion of Revelation 3:5 follows:

Clearly, the promises to the overcomers are rewards for obedience to the commands of the Lord of the Church. As someone has pointedly observed, "A command that everyone keeps is superfluous, and a reward that everyone receives for a virtue that everyone has is nonsense."2

Two promises in particular have been thought to impinge on the eternal salvation of the overcomer. These are the ones made in the letters to Smyrna and Sardis. To those in Smyrna it is said:

He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death (Rev. 2:11);

and to those in Sardis:

He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels (Rev. 3:5).

But both statements can be held to employ a figure of speech called "litotes," which is extremely common in literature and in everyday speech. Litotes is a way of making a positive affirmation by negating the opposite. The presence of litotes is often signaled by obvious understatement.

Thus when the author of Hebrews writes, "For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love..." (Heb. 6:10), it must be assumed that the reader already knows that God is never unjust or forgetful. The reader therefore correctly infers that the writer means something like: "God will keep your labor of love in mind and will stand by you accordingly."

Since a reader of the letter to Smyrna could be presumed to understand that no believer experiences the second death, the statement immediately suggests litotes. Jesus promises that the overcomer will certainly suffer no hurt from the second death. But this sharply understates what must be the destiny of the victorious Christian. Hence the reader is left with a tantalizing inference like: "The experience of the overcomer is radically free from the second death."

This inference is very natural in the light of the immediately preceding words:
Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).
This can mean: "Die for me, if need be, and I will grant you a superlative experience of life." Hence, in the promise to the overcomer, Jesus is saying something like this: "Though physical death may harm you here, the second death cannot harm you hereafter. Your experience will be far, far beyond its reach."3
In a similar fashion, the words, "I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life," at once suggest the understatement of a litotes. No Christian will have his name blotted from that book. His eternal identity rests on the fact that he is an individual whose name is written in heaven (Luke 10:20). And that is just the point. The litotes, taken in the light of the surrounding statements, implies: "Your everlasting name is supremely secure. For, as you stand clothed in a victor's garments, I will acknowledge that name in the august presence of My Father and before the holy angels."4

Abundant and triumphant life, superlative and everlasting honor, are thus the rewards held out to the struggling Christians at Smyrna and Sardis. The use of litotes in both of these promises is a way of imparting, through understatement, the delicate suggestion that the experience will significantly excel the description that is given of it. Just as when someone says, "If you do this, you won't regret it," he means, "Your recompense will result in the very opposite of regret," so our Lord is saying to the overcomer that his reward will be the very opposite of injury from the second death or of losing an eternal name!

But rewards they most assuredly are, as are all of the risen Savior's promises to overcomers. And thus there is a sense in which this final book of the biblical canon, through these challenging calls to victory, effectively punctuates the teaching of the entire New Testament on the subject of spiritual conflict and eternal rewards.5 The figure who emerges from these portraits is a conqueror, just as Jesus was Conqueror. The rewarded one is a victor worthy of co-heirship with the greatest Victor in human history.

1Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, Second Edition (Dallas [Box 141167], TX [75214]: RedenciĆ³n Viva, 1985, 1987), pp. 109-111, 119-20. Used by permission.
2J. William Fuller, "'I Will Not Erase His Name from the Book of Life' (Revelation 3:5)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26 (1983): 299....
3Tatford clearly thinks in terms of litotes when he writes of the promise of Revelation 2:11, "True life lay beyond. In no wise should he be touched by the second death and the very form of the expression but emphasizes the certainty of that truer and fuller life." Fredk. A. Tatford, Prophecy's Last Word (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1947), p. 46.
4Tatford again interprets through litotes when he writes of Revelation 3:5, "Practically every city of that day kept a role or register of its citizens.... one who had performed some great exploit deserving of special distinction, was honoured by having his name inscribed in golden letters in the citizens roll. Our Lord's emphatic statement, therefore, implies not merely that the name of the overcomer shall not be expunged, but per contra that it shall be inscribed in golden letters in the heavenly roll." His whole discussion is worth reading. Fredk. A. Tatford, Prophecy's Last Word, p.63; see pp. 62-63....
5Alexander Patterson weaves together many strands of truth when he writes about the Judgment Seat of Christ, "Not a service done for Christ loses its reward.. .Then those who have laid up treasure in heaven receive it with manifold interest. All losses are made good. Then it is the promises are fulfilled, made 'to him that overcometh...'" Alexander Patterson, The Greater Life and Works of Christ [New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1896], p.316. This beautiful resume of rewards truth was written in the nineteenth century. How little of it is understood in the twentieth!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Quotes related to Christianity's fall from grace . . .

"Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?"
~ Jesus Christ ~

"What life have you if you have not life together?"
~ T.S. Eliot ~

"The clerical system of church management is exceedingly popular, but the whole thought is foreign to Scripture." ~ Watchman Nee ~

"God's program is directed toward, and is experienced in, community." ~ Stanley Grenz ~

"In the process of replacing the old religions, Christianity became a religion." ~ Alexander Schmemann ~

"Laypeople have been a theologial afterthought throughout the history of the church." ~ Paul Lakeland ~

"We are living in an age hopelessly below the New Testament pattern—content with a neat little religion." ~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones ~

"Viewed within the context of the triune God himself, the church is community." ~ Stanley Grenz ~

"The ultimate basis for our understanding of the church lies in its relationship to the nature of the triune God himself." ~ Stanley Grenz ~

"Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it." ~ Will Durant ~

"Everything [in the early church] then was the free and spontaneous movement of the Holy Spirit..." ~ T. Austin-Sparks ~

"Custom without truth is error grown old."
~ Tertullian ~

"Son of man, [show] the house to the house, that they may be ashamed." ~ Ezekiel, the prophet ~

"Important ideas are first ridiculed, then attacked, and finally taken for granted." ~ Schopenhauer ~

"The clergy practice is a heresy that must be renounced."
~ Jon Zens ~

(quotes gleaned from House Church Resource website)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Does it matter where you seek the kingdom?"

The word speaks of the need for seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. But does it matters where we look? I believe so. The Lord tells us to also seek or lay up treasure in heaven, for the coming, eternal kingdom. That is all clear enough and easy to see. The word is full of treasure, only revealed to us by the indwelling Spirit of Truth. Yet can we find treasure of the kingdom in other places than the word? Yes. Many will think of attending that nice church down the street to find treasure for the hereafter. Perhaps a recommended Christian book or a class will reveal treasure. What about seeking treasure through prayer? How about that private time of worshipping God?

Let me diverge a bit here . . .

Have you ever gone to one of those vacation spots called a Gem or Ruby Mine? For a small fee, you can buy a bucket of dirt, (many times enriched with small gemstones). You then sift the soil and small particles away in water and search for treasure among the sifted stones. Someone else dug the soil, filled the bucket, and sold it to you. You can thus enjoy an easy and cheap thrill of “finding treasure”. Is that the best way to seek treasure? Of course not! It’s actually only entertainment and chances are you will very rarely find any real treasure. (Any parallels you might ascertain between this vacation spot and faithfully sitting in a church pew every Sunday, softly and tenderly seeking the treasure of the kingdom is your own revelation.)

So what about really digging in and seeking the treasure of the kingdom for ourselves? Where and how do we find this everlasting treasure?

Permit me yet another diversionary, treasure-seeking tale . . .

For years, (nearly 24 now), I have driven by a certain spot on the highway and for many years I pondered this spot. It’s only at this juncture in my life that the Lord has let me see a lesson about His kingdom in the following story.

For many months I passed by an outcropping of stone that the highway had cut through. I’d look over and notice what seemed to be fresh cuts or chiseled areas on the cliff face. I was curious but never stopped. Then one day, I finally spied people with hammers and buckets working on the slope of that rock face. Ah ha! Something unique was hidden there in plain view and within easy road access. As the weather warmed, I’d see more people scrambling about, sometimes an entire vanload of children had come to scour the cliffs.

Eventually the day came that I decided to pull over, stop my vehicle, park on the shoulder and climb that hill myself. This “mystery hill” needed to share its secret with me. I picked up stones, kicked at dirt piles but I couldn’t find treasure. Perplexed, I realized I needed someone to guide me and as if on cue, another car pulled off the road.

A man got out and looked up at me and as he ascended the hillside he asked, “Hey what are you looking for up here?”

I laughed and replied, “I was hoping you knew and you could tell me why we are both up on this hillside.”

We both heartily laughed and began in earnest the peer at our feet seeking the not-so-obvious answer. As we shared the common experience of seeing people digging, we agreed that something of value was near, right under our nose. We remained baffled but we kept seeking.

Have we ever felt that with the things of the Lord? We gather into our church organization of choice seeking the treasures of the kingdom. But what are the treasures? Are they even here? We stand among other church-attending seekers and they ask, “What are you looking for here?” If we are honest, we will say we really aren’t totally sure why we are at that particular church in regards to where or what the treasures of the kingdom may be.

Perhaps we witnessed our parents, friends or neighbors attend the church we find ourselves attending. Maybe we saw a vanload, of children unload and go inside -- each excited to be there. They all seemed happy to be at this place. Yet once we look around, honestly asking ourselves hard questions, we must admit we are not sure of many things. So, there we stand or sit as another seeker asks us, “What brings you here today?” How do we reply? Many of us are content to wait for some “authority figure” to tell us, assure us, “Oh, you are looking for ‘X’!” And we say to ourselves, “Oh, ‘X’, yes, that’s it,” and there we remain seeking for “X”. Is that the treasure of seeking the kingdom – this “X”? I don’t really think so. Most of the time that “X” answer we accept is not the treasure at all.

I return now to the “Mystery Hill” . . .

My befuddled, treasure-hunting associate and I stood wondering what the “X” we were seeking really was. A truck pulled off next, emptying itself of one gray-haired, older man, radiating knowledge and authority. He said to us in a raspy hollering, “Finding anything?”

My compatriot and I shrugged and sheepishly answered, “Neither of us know what we are looking for really and haven’t found it yet!”

The old guy seemed to pause, as if chuckling and shouted back, “You’re supposed to be looking for garnets! The place is full of ‘em! That’s what everyone else is after up there! Now this is my property on the top of the hill beyond the right-of-way! Don’t go up there riding 4-wheelers on my land! Those things are a nuisance!” He turned around, got back in his truck and drove off again as quick as he had stopped. Since we weren’t trespassers or 4-wheeler types, he saw us as a non-issue and simply left us to our garnets.

I asked the man next to man, “What’s a garnet – worth anything?”

He had that same-as-me dumb look, “I think it’s a gemstone.”

I thought to myself, “Well . . . duh.”

“I’ll need to do some reading I ‘spose,” I added outloud and began my descent to the road. The other fellow remained.

Again, I was barely any more informed, knowing the “X” was a garnet. But what was a garnet? What did it even look like? Was it valuable, a treasure maybe? I almost decided not to bother with it and then I remembered my youngest daughter. She was at the age when she was big into science -- be it rocks, bones or bugs. Now she is a gifted, dean’s-list-recognized, award-winning art major, (I know, I am bragging on her), so back to the hill she and I came . . .

We arrived at the spot and several other groupings of rock hounds were already there, banging away. It was a nice day and on the weekend. My daughter and I picked our own niche and proceeded to hammer and dig as if we were pros at garnet hunting. It was fun initially but we found few good specimens. Many of the garnets we spied were firmly embedded in the mica-schist matrix and had been fractured by previous attempts at extraction by novices like ourselves. As I was beginning to think this was more of a test of patience than actual fun and frustration for my daughter, I noticed an odd-looking man arriving at the base of the hill. He emerged from his battered off-road contraption looking like some old-time movie villain. He sported a huge handlebar moustache and a clean-shaven head. He wore leather and denim with some serious biker-type boots. He was just watching us work on the hill and then as he caught my eye, he waved for me to come down to him. Hesitantly, I brought my little girl with me off the cliff to speak with this mystery man.

He said, “I have something to show you here.”

Being fellow treasure hunters, he had decided to wow us. He pulled a small plastic medicine bottle from his leather vest and inside was about a half-inch deep of golden flakes.

“Is that really gold?” I asked.

“Of course, it’s some leftover scraps I just panned from a stream near an old abandoned gold mine nearby.”

He showed us his green plastic, gold-panning bowl and even demonstrated how it worked. This was one fascinating guy and really knew his treasure hunting! It seems the appearance of the fellow had kept the other garnet hunters away so we had a private chat with him.

“This garnet-rich, mica-schist vein runs for miles in a North-South direction from here. You can find some nice kyanite crystals up over that hill too,” he added as he put his gold away, “And listen, this is a well-know spot but really beaten and plundered of decent garnets. Matrix is really hard here as well. Over that way, along the lake, about a 15-minute walk or so, you will find a stream that cuts through the vein. Follow it about a half a mile in from its mouth and look for garnets there. They are many huge ones, loosely embedded and easy to retrieve. The spot is secluded, quiet, and really pretty with a nice waterfall upstream from the garnet site.”

Without much more said, he turned to leave as we thanked him. Like that he was gone into history and I quickly put into plan a trip to that place.

Later, I took both my daughters on the journey to the secretive garnet site. My wife and I hiked there too and enjoyed a casual dig. I now have many a fond memory of that spot.

Did we find treasure? Yes and no. Garnets are not that valuable, used on sandpaper as grit as well as for jewelry. If the stone is large enough and defect-free enough, they can be cut and mounted like any other gem. They have a deep, blood-red color. Two fine rings, a pendant and a pair of earrings are graced with garnets we mined from that favorite place. So was the garnet cache a trove of treasure? No, not really but treasure was indeed “layed up” that is timeless valuable. My seeking for that kingdom of treasure hidden from the view of the hustle-bustle highway – well, it changed me, changed my family. The experience itself of seeking, sowed love in my heart between my children and I. It added treasure to my marriage even, somehow. Nothing can match that treasure! It can’t ever be taken away.

Yes, I could have ignored the odd messenger sent to us and never heeded his tale of treasure hidden afar off. We could have stayed with the crowds, by the roadside at the obvious and “easier” treasure. I seriously doubt we would have found such huge quality gemstones nor shared so many dear moments there. It took a certain vision, a faith in that messenger’s gift, for us to leave that outcropping of dynamited, machine-hewn, and hammered stone to wander off in the wilderness to find stones that water and time had exposed. We decided to wander the deer paths, climb steep hills, and scramble down ravines seeking that stream. We followed by faith that stream to an unseen and unproven land. It wasn’t easy. My one older daughter complained that it was too far to walk, (She later earned a degree in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education! And now she and her husband are kayaking the Eastern Seaboard of the US, from Maine to Florida!). The experience changed us! It sowed eternal seeds of treasure.

Others I guided there, years later, also thought the hike a difficult one but when we unearthed huge garnets, all complaints we forgotten. Was the treasure in the gems themselves? No, it was in the very act of seeking, that we were each confronted with “pressing on towards the goal” and that lesson changed us.

So now, I ask you . . .

Where are you digging? Where is your treasure today? What is your treasure? Your heart is there also. What does your treasure look like? Do you even know what it really is? Has a certain someone ever been sent your way to help you, to guide your journey? Have you listened and responded in faith? Are you “pressing on” and walking that path now?

Know this, that the real treasure, the prize, is Christ. His kingdom has come and will come in all its full glory. Ask Him for grace to seek Him, Then seek Him. Keep knocking on the door of the kingdom of treasure and it will be opened unto and into you. Be led by the Spirit, by the messenger of Christ in you -- and not by the crowd. Follow Him even into the wilderness, off the easy road, and treasure will be made from Christ in you. Follow the stream to the Rock.

May God bless your journey.

Friday, February 6, 2009

"The little cells that could . . ."

Some of you reading this may already know I am a medical research scientist and as well a certified arborist, (professional tree-hugger). So being either in the lab doing science or being outdoors loving the creation, sometimes I see things that blow me away in their significance.

Case in point 1:

HL cardiomyocyte cells (heart cells) that I work with have very strange ways about them. The Creator God designed them to work quite well for a long time in many creatures. So what’s so unique about them? And what is the deep truth these little things show us?

Let’s first imagine that each cell represents one person, one believer in the Lord Jesus. Then let’s imagine each cell has a purpose. Further imagine that God has a large vision for ALL his children. He wants us to grow up, to mature and to be His servants. But there is a catch – He wants no “Lone Rangers” for God, no self-made ones. Consider the reality that He wants us to be One, in community, maturing together, serving Him and each other.

This is all very much what is called “Organic Christianity” versus what we see today, something I call “organized churchianity”.

Back to the cells . . .

I will grow them in a flask, which has rectangular dimensions. I add a liquid diet called “media” (cell food), which is perfect for them to grow and thrive within. I moderate even the atmospheric conditions and isolate them in a controlled temperate environment. Into that perfect world, I will introduce a few cells. If I have done all things right, without modifying the protocol, they will split (reproduce themselves) and “community” of cells will keep growing and multiplying until they completely cover the bottom of the flask. Cells like to adhere to the flask’s bottom, take their place, and grow.

So that’s about it. So what’s so unique about these guys?

First off, while they are growing, as little islands of cells in the media sea, they just sit there looking like cells. Nothing cool yet . . . When they finally cover the whole “floor” or bottom of the flask, something amazing happens -- THEY BEGIN TO BEAT! That’s right, once they are confluent, reaching the full capacity of the flask, each island of cells touches its neighbor and they are all connected – THEY WAKE UP to their purpose! The individual cells become islands of cells and then a community that is then mature. And what happens? They somehow speak to each other and they naturally begin to do what heart cells do – they beat! What else is so amazing is that they beat IN UNISON. No cell is left out. What they were born to do, they each and all together do.

And guess what? No cell is in charge. There is no leader, no director to say, “BEAT now!” It’s in each cell’s DNA, in each one’s nature to know when to do what they should do – even together without any brain cells to direct them!

The Lord said to me when I saw this, “That is how My ones, My Church, My Body is to function. I am your Creator, your Head, and your Leader. My purpose, My Life, My Spirit, My eternal plan, My DNA is in each one of you! I have provided ALL you need to be My People. No man need direct or lead you in what is already in you to do. My Spirit will help, lead, guide and teach you all truth.”

Case in point 2:

If that’s not amazing enough, then one day, the Lord allowed me to see something else about these cells. One week, we were going to need cells to be ready for tests that lasted for 4 days. I decided that I had to modify protocol a bit to avoid cells being ready on a day too late in the week. I avoid working on weekends. So, to do that, I decreased the usual number of cells introduced into the flask on the Friday before an experimental week, to effect an exact day when they would be matured and beating. I played “God” so to speak and decided to make the cells obey my way of doing things. Hey, it had worked with other cells before, so why not these special cells too?

Sadly, the cells grew in odd ways, atypical of what I had observed before and when they seemed mature and filled the flask, they rarely were beating, if at all. I couldn’t figure it out. Only small areas seemed to beat while others sat there still. Where was the unity, the precise beating, as if each cell knew what to do? There was instead, confusion and random beats – a nonfunctional mess!

What was wrong? Then my colleague asked me what I had done with these cells different. Nothing came to my mind. Then I remembered I had lowered the initial concentration of cells to start the culture. She informed me that THAT was what was wrong. She said, “These cells need to talk to each other, to remind their neighbor who they are. When you added too few, they were isolated from each other, so they just grew in whatever manner they decided best. So many of them never matured. These cells must grow in community and speak to each other as they grow to reach functional maturity.”

I said, “Oh, I am sorry I modified the protocol.” She said that was fine since I didn’t know about these cells’ special needs. She left and I sat there, amazed yet again, more truth from the Lord via these meager cells, flooded my soul. WOW!
Not only do these little cells speak of the Lord’s being the Leader of His organic and living Church but these cells spoke to me of the need for us to remind one another and encourage one another. We must speak to one another as to WHO WE REALLY ARE IN CHRIST and what HIS PURPOSE is for us. If we try to live the Christian life on our own, even with ALL the best food out there and perfect conditions provided us – we will not mature into HIS FULLEST purpose for His Church. Jesus has planned community, communal faith, to mature us and help us stay on target, manifesting His fullness.

What an amazing Lord He is!