Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Church of CHRIST

     What is the church of Christ? What do we mean when we talk about the church of Christ? What should we mean? It seems like many, even within the church itself, don’t have a clear understanding of what the church is, evidenced by the phraseology commonly used.
     Maybe you’ve heard something like, “He’s Baptist, she’s Methodist, I’m Church of Christ.” This gives the impression that the church of Christ is just a denominational sect among many others. Or, “John is a Church of Christ preacher, Freed-Hardeman is a Church of Christ university, and weekly communion is a Church of Christ doctrine.” But the expression “Church of Christ” is not an adjective. It would be more proper to speak of gospel preachers, Christian schools, and biblical doctrines. I’m a member of the church of Christ, but I’m not “Church of Christ.” The word “church” applies to a collectivity of believers, not to an individual. The designation “Church of Christ” is not a denominational label. It is not an adjective. It is a descriptive phrase for the church belonging to Christ.
     Sometimes the question is asked, “Will only the church of Christ be saved?” This is a valid question and deserves a biblical answer. When people derogatorily say, “The Church of Christ think they’re the only ones going to heaven,” they usually have in mind a denominational sect wearing the name “Church of Christ” who believe their denomination is better than all others. This misguided perspective has led to considerable misunderstanding and prejudice. Heres a good response: “You know, I’ve heard that rumor too. Would you like to see what the Bible says?”

A Biblical Response to Common Misconceptions

     The Bible teaches that salvation is in Christ (2 Tim. 2:10). In fact, salvation is only in Christ (Acts 4:12; John 14:6). How, then, does one get into Christ where salvation is available? There are only two verses in the Bible that specifically state at what point in our response to God we enter Christ, namely Rom. 6:3 and Gal. 3:27. Both of these passages say the same thing: as penitent believers we are “baptized into Christ.”1 Yet elsewhere Paul says, “we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). Which is it? Are we baptized into Christ or into Christ’s body? If I swallow a coin, is the coin in me or in my body? Yes it is. To be in Christ is to be in the body of Christ.
     Does this mean that one must be in Christ’s body to be saved? Again Paul writes, “… Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23). Those outside the body of Christ are not and cannot be saved. And what is the emblematic body of Christ? “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:22-23). The body of Christ is the church of Christ.
     The church of Christ is not a physical building or denominational sect. All penitent believers who have obeyed the gospel, having been baptized into Christ for the remission of sins, are added by the Lord to the church/the community of the saved (Acts 2:38-47; 1 Cor. 12:13), and by remaining faithful to Christ’s teachings, comprise the church of Christ. It’s not a matter of joining the church of your choice; it’s a matter of obeying the word of God and being the church of Christ’s choice.
     Will only the church of Christ be saved? The only biblical answer is affirmative. To give any other answer is to misunderstand what the church of Christ is. Someone might ask, “Do you think your church is the only right one?” This is an easy question to answer, because I don’t have a church. If I did, it wouldn’t be any better or worse than any other man-made religious group. But Jesus Christ does have a church. His church is the only right one. This is the only church I want to be part of.

Attempts to Justify Denominationalism

     In an attempt to justify the current state of the religious world, many try to define the church as a universal brotherhood of various (all, some, most?) denominational bodies, all wearing different names and adhering to different doctrines. But this concept is foreign to the Bible. When Jesus employed the imagery of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-18), there was no such thing as a denominational sect. In fact, the Lord’s own church had not been established yet. Jesus is the vine and individual disciples are the branches.
     Christ promised to build only one church (Matt. 16:18). By the time Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, there was just “one body” (Eph. 4:4a), just as there is one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God the Father (vv. 4b-6). As much as I’d like to rationalize the current condition of the religious world and affirm that everybody and everything is okay, this can’t be done if the Bible is to be taken seriously (cf. Matt. 7:13-14).

Whose church? Whose name?

     To be the church of Christ, the teachings of Christ must be respected and followed. If a group meets in a building with a sign that reads “Church of Christ” but are not abiding by Christ’s teachings, they are not the church of Christ. If a group meets in a building with no sign, or in a schoolroom, or in a living room, or in a cardboard shack, and the teachings of Christ are faithfully obeyed, they are the church of Christ.
     The church of the New Testament does not have a single, proper name – just descriptive designations (e.g. Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 11:16; 14:33; etc.). Nevertheless, there was only one church in the New Testament era, so irrespective of which biblical expression was used, there would be no confusion. In modern times, however, the religious environment is very different. There are hundreds of churches claiming allegiance to Christ, wearing different names, worshiping in different ways, and teaching conflicting doctrines. It can be very confusing. Therefore, it is surely expedient to have a designation that helps identify and unify those of like-precious-faith, while distinguishing from those on a different path.
     If Christ is the builder of his church (Matt. 16:18), the foundation of his church (1 Cor. 3:11), the purchaser of his church (Acts 20:28), and the head of his church (Col. 1:18), why shouldn’t we wear his name? When we speak of the church of Christ, it ought to be for the purpose of honoring Christ and identifying ourselves with him. Any other usage is unbiblical.

Putting it in Perspective

     If the Lord says there is only one true church (Matt. 16:18), am I narrow-minded if I say the same thing? If Jesus promises, “you shall know the truth” (John 8:32), is it arrogant to say that I know the truth? If the name of Christ has been exalted above all other names (Phil. 2:9), am I sectarian if I only want to wear the name of Christ? If God condemns religious division (1 Cor. 1:10), how can I justify denominationalism? If Jesus is the savior of all who obey him (Heb. 5:9), am I legalistic if I emphasize the importance of obedience? If God specifies the kind of worship that is acceptable to him (John 4:24), who am I to prescribe something different? If human innovations in worship are unacceptable to God (Matt. 15:8-9), am I judgmental when I object to human innovations in worship? If we speak where the Bible speaks (1 Pet. 4:11), why are we ridiculed for trying to follow the revealed will of God?

Conclusion

     I only want to be a member of the church I read about in the New Testament: nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. If, for whatever reason, I’m not a member of that church, the greatest service anyone could do for me is to open the Bible and point me in the right direction. At the same time, I sincerely want others to be in heaven. If that means I have to step out of my comfort zone and lovingly confront those who are in error, am I not doing what the Lord expects? And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnote:
     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the NKJV.


Image credit: Photo taken by Lynne Moore of the sign on the building where the church of Christ in Nazareth meets.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

A Christian’s Need For Repentance

      Simon was a newly baptized believer. Unfortunately, even though he had been forgiven of his past sins, he retained some of his worldly tendencies. After succumbing to the temptation to think and act contrary to what is expected of a follower of Jesus, he is divinely instructed: “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22, NASB). While Christians are forgiven people, we are still imperfect people who sometimes stumble in our walk with God (1 John 1:10). Repentance, therefore, is not only a requisite for our initial salvation (Acts 2:38; 3:19), it continues to be an important part of our spiritual journey.


What is Repentance?

     The sinful attitudes and behavior of the disciples at Corinth prompted Paul to write the document we now call First Corinthians. Throughout the letter he seeks to turn the situation around with exhortations, rebukes, and corrective instructions. In the follow-up correspondence he continues to emphasize reformation of life, including the admonition: “let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). This implies personal responsibility. The noun “holiness” is derived from the adjective “holy,” essentially meaning “different” or “set apart.” The Corinthians are repeatedly reminded to leave behind their old sinful ways and worldly mindsets.
     In the verses that follow, Paul informs his readers that despite difficult and discouraging circumstances, he is comforted by the positive report he has received concerning their response to his exhortations. He did not regret having written the previous letter, but he did regret, at least initially, the temporary sorrow it generated. Nevertheless, the outcome caused him to rejoice because the Corinthians were led to repentance.
     Note that repentance is not merely an internal feeling of sadness, although this is the necessary spark leading to repentance (v. 9a). Biblical repentance begins in the heart with a sorrow “according to the will of God,” i.e., “godly grief” (ESV), “as God intended” (NIV), “in a godly manner” (NKJV) (v. 9b). The statement, “so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us” (v. 9c), indicates that the Corinthians would have suffered great spiritual harm had Paul not had the love and courage to take on the unpleasant task of writing the aforementioned letter (cf. 2:4; 7:12) that had such a transformative impact.
     The “sorrow of the world” is essentially a selfish concern when facing consequences but no real remorse for disobedience, which ultimately leads to spiritual death (v. 10b). Conversely, “the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation” (v. 10a). Having begun in the heart with sincere conviction, repentance involves a simultaneous turning in two opposite directions: away from sin and back to God. This is demonstrated by an observable change of life, as the following verse affirms. These disciples (for the most part) had exhibited genuine repentance and are no longer guilty of wrongdoing (v. 11), particularly in the matter of allowing and condoning immorality in the church (cf. 2:5-9; 1 Cor. 5:1-2). See also Matthew 21:28-31; Luke 22:32; Colossians 3:5-10; James 5:19, 20; 1 Peter 2:25.

A Recurring Need

     Surely the aim of every child of God is to avoid sinning (Romans 6:1-2; 12:1-2). Regrettably, however, we are not always successful, so the Lord has made provision for these sporadic lapses of weakness (1 John 1:7–2:6). Those who comprised the first-century church at Ephesus were reminded “that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4, NKJV). But years later they are told, “you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4b). How was this dismal state of affairs to be corrected? “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent” (v. 5). Both the stern warning and the opportunity to make things right represent the ongoing concern of our heavenly Father with constant love, mercy, and grace. May we, therefore, live our lives accordingly.
--Kevin L. Moore

Questions to Consider

1. Why do Christians sin?

2. What provision has God made for Christians who sin?

3. What should be the Christian’s attitude toward sin?

4. What is the difference between “the sorrow of the world” and “the sorrow that is according to the will of God” (2 Corinthians 7:10)?

5. What does biblical repentance entail?

6. What key component of biblical repentance is highlighted in the following passages? Matthew 13:15; Acts 3:19, 26; 9:35; 11:21; 14:15; 15:19; 26:18-20; 2 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9

7. What do the following passages share in common about how repentance is actuated? Jonah 3:10; Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8; John 8:10-11; Acts 26:20; Galatians 1:23; Ephesians 4:28

8. What is the danger of not repenting? Luke 13:3, 5; Revelation 2:5, 16, 21-23

9. How is God’s expectation of holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 1:4) to be achieved in the Christian life?

10. How does the biblical doctrine of repentance apply to your walk with the Lord?

*Originally prepared for the Make Disciples Training Program <Link>.

Related Posts:

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Wednesday, 27 September 2017

What does it mean to “Obey the Gospel”? (Part 2)

II. What it means to those who have obeyed the gospel:

     The Lord has commanded his followers to “proclaim the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15b), the aim of which is to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19a).1 But what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Before Luke included accounts of the Great Commission in his two-volume work (Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:8), he recorded these words spoken by Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters; yes, and also his own life, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple …. every one of you who does not give up all that he possesses, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-33, emp. added KLM).
     These statements admittedly sound rather extreme, but let’s put them in perspective. The term translated “hate” (v. 26) is the Greek miséō, which essentially means to “esteem less” but is magnified to stress the absolute importance of one’s priorities.2 Jesus must take precedence over the closest of human relationships. Otherwise, my family cannot save me and I would be unable to direct them to God. But if Jesus is at the top of my priority list, not only will I be saved and in a position to help my family go to heaven, I will be a much better son, spouse, parent, and sibling.
     The idea of a “cross” (v. 27) had absolutely no religious connotation at this time. Although Jesus had informed his disciples that he would be “killed” (Matt. 16:21), he had not yet specified the manner of his death,3 so what was their frame of reference? Long before the words in question were spoken, Palestinian Jews were all too familiar with the cross as an instrument of public execution.4 The Romans in particular had perfected this form of capital punishment as a means of humiliation and torture and a deterrent to insurrection. The condemned was forced to carry the implement upon which he would die to the place of execution, and seeing that an entire Roman cross weighed over 135 kg (300 lb.), it was the crossbeam, weighing approximately 35-60 kg (75-125 lb.), that was typically carried. Jesus seems to be implying that discipleship is anything but easy, and a lifelong commitment must be made as one dies to self.5
     The “counting the cost” illustrations that follow (vv. 28-32) indicate that this lofty decision is to be made before even starting the journey. We do a grave disservice to prospective converts when we fail to inform them of what the Lord expects after baptism and the gravity of the commitment they are being called to make.
     The third exhortation, about giving up all that one possesses, is again a matter of priorities. The Lord does not expect his followers to physically impoverish themselves. Otherwise, how could we help the needy (Rom. 15:26), support ministers of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14), give to the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 16:1-2), and provide for our families (1 Tim. 5:8)? The fundamental requisite, then, is an inner detachment from earthly ties. Absolute loyalty to Jesus as Lord ought to surpass one’s connection to all worldly possessions.6

Continued Obedience

     The Lord has instructed that we are to “make disciples of all nations” by the twofold process of (a) “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and (b) “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19). One cannot be a disciple of Jesus without baptism, and one cannot be a disciple of Jesus without having been sufficiently taught. So what is expected after baptism? Does obedience to the gospel end?   
     Our initial response is to “hear” (listen to, understand, heed) the gospel message, but we must continue hearing, receptively and responsively (Rom. 10:17; Eph. 4:21, 29; Phil. 4:9; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29). We are to believe the gospel message, and keep on believing while increasing in faith (Rom. 3:22; 4:11, 24; 10:4; 2 Pet. 1:5-7). We are to repent of sinful attitudes and behaviors, but we can’t stop repenting (Acts 8:22; Rom. 6:1-18; 2 Cor. 7:9-10). We must confess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and keep on confessing (Rom. 10:9-10; 2 Cor. 9:13; Heb. 4:14; 10:23). Baptism for the forgiveness of past sins (Acts 2:38; 8:36-39; 22:16) is the one act of obedience that doesn’t continue, because it is the inaugural step that places us in Christ and his emblematic body, the church, the community of the saved (Acts 2:41-47; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:20-21). We are then raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:11-13; 3:1-3) by remaining faithful (Acts 2:42; 14:22) as active members of Christ’s body (Rom. 12:3-13; 1 Cor. 12:12-27), even unto death (Rev. 2:10).

Conclusion

     What does it mean to obey the gospel? To those who have not yet obeyed, it means to welcome God’s word with open, receptive, truth-seeking hearts and eagerly respond to its directives with obedient faith. To those who have already obeyed the gospel, it means to be faithful to the lifelong commitment made to the Lord and keep on obeying until death.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 In Romans 9:13 Paul quotes Malachi 1:2-3, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Here the concepts of “love” and “hate” are not emotional expressions (as per modern westernized concepts) but are demonstrated actions (cf. Dan. 9:4; John 14:15; Rom. 5:8; etc.). In the 5th-century BC context of Malachi, “Jacob” represents the descendants of Jacob/Israel (1:1, 5) and “Esau” stands for Esau’s descendants, the people of Edom (1:4). The Israelites were being reminded of their special role in God’s scheme (“Jacob I have loved”), despite the persistent abuse of their privileged status, while the defiant Edomites were destined for destruction (“Esau I have hated”).
     3 It was not until the following year that Jesus would reveal his impending death by way of crucifixion (Matt. 20:19; 26:2).
     4 As far back as the second century BC, Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes crucified Jews who resisted his oppressive decrees (see Josephus Ant. 12.5.4).
     5 See “Cross Bearing: the Cost of Discipleship,” <Link>.
     6 See “Leaving All to Follow Jesus,” <Link>.



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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

What does it mean to “Obey the Gospel”? (Part 1)

     The phrase “obey the gospel” occurs only three times in the NT, all in reference to those who do not obey the gospel (Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:17; cp. Heb. 4:2, 6). In the positive sense, comparable expressions include “obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7) and “you have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted” (Rom. 6:17).1 Moreover, the Bible has much to say about both the gospel and obedience. What, then, does the concept of obeying the gospel entail?

I. What it means to those who have not obeyed the gospel:

     The noun euaggélion, often translated “gospel,” essentially means “good news” or “glad tidings” (occurring 76 times in the Greek NT). The verbal euaggelí (occurring 54 times) simply means to “proclaim good news” or “announce glad tidings.” The angel Gabriel ‘announced good news’ [euaggelí] to Zacharias (Luke 1:19). When Jesus was born, an angel ‘brought glad tidings’ [euaggelí] to a group of shepherds, a message of great joy to all (Luke 2:10). John the baptizer ‘preached good news’ [euaggelí] to the people (Luke 3:18). When Jesus began his public ministry, he proclaimed the ‘good news’ [euaggélion] of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35).
     Mark opens his inspired record with these words: “[the] beginning of the gospel [euaggélion] of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (1:1). Mark’s rapid-fire historical account points to the earthly ministry of Jesus (briefly prefaced by OT prophecy and John’s preparatory mission) as the commencement of the gospel story (1:2-9). In contrast, the apostle John goes all the way back to the beginning of time (1:1-3) and then transitions into the testimony of John the baptizer as a prelude to Christ’s ministry. Luke takes us back to Adam (3:38) in connection with Jesus’ genealogy and incarnation, while Matthew starts with Abraham (1:1-2) as a focal point of Christ’s lineage and fulfilled prophecy. Collectively these four Gospels mark just the beginning of the gospel narrative, while the book of Acts continues the story for another three decades (see Acts 1:1).
     The gospel is a universal message to be shared with the entire world (Matt. 24:14; 26:13; Mark 16:15; cf. Acts 1:8). This necessarily involves both proclaimers and recipients. When the early Christians scattered from Jerusalem, they went everywhere ‘proclaiming good news’ [euaggelí] of the word (Acts 8:1-4). The book of Acts provides a historical record of these early evangelizers and how their audiences received and responded to the divine message. While many rejected the gospel outright,2 many others were receptive to it.3

The Desired Response

     Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy describe the coming judgment of Christ as follows: “in a fire of flame inflicting vengeance on those not knowing God and those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:8). While the term “gospel” means “good news,” apparently an obedient response is required in order for it to actually be good news (cf. Rom. 10:16; Heb. 4:2, 6; 1 Pet. 4:17). There were a number in Thessalonica who “did not accept [déchomai] the love of the truth in order for them to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10). Conversely, others “hearing [akoē] [the] word of God … accepted [déchomai] … [the] word of God, which also is working in you, the believing [ones]” (1 Thess. 2:13).4
     Two key terms describe their positive response: “hearing” [akoē] and “accepting” [déchomai].5 The latter conveys the idea of grasping and welcoming (cf. 1 Thess. 1:6; also Luke 8:13; Acts 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; Jas. 1:21), therefore “hearing” involves more than just receiving audible sounds (cf. Matt. 13:13-17; Jas. 1:22-25). It necessarily includes listening, understanding, accepting, and heeding.
     Elsewhere this is expressed as akoēs písteōs (“hearing of faith”) (Gal. 3:2, 5). Unfortunately, the significance of this phrase is all but lost in English translation. The sense is much clearer in light of the parallel idiom in Rom. 1:5 and 16:26, hupakoēn písteōs (“obedience of faith”). Both akoē and hupakoē [hupó -“by” + akoē -“hearing” = to give ear, hearken, obey] reflect the Hebrew sense of shema, a “responsive hearing” (cf. Ex. 24:7; Deut. 31:11-13; Rom. 10:16-17). The idiomatic expressions “hearing” and “hearing of faith” are clearly allusions to receptive and responsive hearing, viz., obedient faith (cf. Heb. 4:2, 6).6

Conclusion

     Sin separates the sinner from God (Isa. 59:1-2; 1 John 1:5-6), and all accountable humans (other than Christ) have sinned (Rom. 3:10, 23; 1 John 1:10). The gospel of Jesus Christ is “good news” because it reveals God’s plan of redemption for lost humanity. However, the gospel is only good news to those who obey (Rom. 6:16-18).7 This particularly involves receptive and responsive hearing (Acts 2:22, 37), believing and confessing Jesus (Acts 2:36-37; 8:12, 35-37), turning away from sin (Acts 2:38a; 3:19), immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38b, 41; 22:16), and continued faithfulness (Acts 2:42; 14:22).
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Acts 4:1-3, 18; 5:13, 17-18, 28, 33, 40; 6:9; 7:51-59; 9:23, 29; 12:1-4; 13:6-10, 45-46, 50; 14:2, 4a, 5, 19; 17:5-9, 13, 32a; 18:6, 12; 19:9, 23; 20:3; 21:27-28; 22:22; 26:28; 28:24b.
     3 Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 8:6-13, 36-39; 9:18, 35, 42; 10:33; 11:21-24; 12:24; 13:12, 42-44, 48-49; 14:1, 4b, 21; 15:3; 16:14-15, 30-34; 17:4, 11-12, 34; 18:8, 19-21, 24-28; 19:1-5, 18-20; 21:20; 28:24a.
     4 The message they had received and continued to embrace, having been variously designated the “gospel” (1 Thess. 1:5; 2:4), “the word” (1:6), “the word of the Lord” (1:8; 4:15), and “the gospel of God” (2:2, 8, 9), is twice referenced here as “the word of God.”
     5 The term paralambánō (to “take hold of” or “receive”) is another important description of how the gospel ought to be responded to (see 1 Cor. 15:1; Gal. 1:9; Phil. 4:9; Col. 2:6; 4:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess. 3:6; Heb. 12:28).
     6 On the noun akoé (“hearing”), see Rom. 10:17; Gal. 3:2, 5; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 5:11. On the verb akoúō (“hear”), see Acts 2:11, 22, 37; 3:22-23; 4:4; 8:6; 10:22, 33, 44; 13:7, 44; 14:9; 15:7; 16:14; 18:8; 19:5, 10.
     7 See also Matt. 7:21-27; 12:50; Luke 8:15; John 3:36[ASV]; 8:31-36; 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10, 14; Rom. 2:8; 10:16-17; Heb. 3:18; 4:6, 11; 5:8-9; Jas. 1:21-25; 2:17-26
11; 1 John 2:3-5.


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