I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal (Revelation 4:1-6).
There are many people who have completely reduced the gospel to a message of assurance of “going to heaven when you die”.
They suggest the following, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Sinners deserve to be eternally condemned. Jesus died in your place. So that, if you confess that you are a sinner and you simply believe that Jesus died in your place, you will be assured of a place in heaven when you die.”
Of course, it’s not as simple as that – and to suggest that it is, is to leave people in their sins and with a false hope and assurance that they will indeed “go to heaven when they die.”
Such teachers also refer to the one criminal who was crucified next to Jesus, to whom Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).
No one could have had greater assurance than the criminal who was crucified next to Jesus that according to Jesus’ own word, he would be with Jesus in paradise that very day, not having had any opportunity of proving his faith in Jesus by doing anything beyond simply believing. If you have not yet believed in Jesus, you are in the same desperate place as the criminal who was crucified next to Jesus. You may think you have your whole life ahead of you, but you stand condemned now on account of your sin and only by believing in Jesus and calling on his name, can you hope to be saved.
The apostles Paul, Peter and the writer to the Hebrews, referred to the potential of falling away from – or denying – the faith.
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace (Hebrews 6:4-6).
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud” (2 Peter 2:20-22).
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith. Grace be with you all (1 Timothy 6:20-21).
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (Revelation 2:10).
There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus (Revelation 14:11-12).
The question is often asked, “Can a Christian ever fall away so completely as to lose their salvation” which begs the answer to provide assurance beyond that of our own determination and commitment to remain faithful, even to the point of death.
Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same (Matthew 26:31-35).
We may be determined to remain faithful, but God also grants repentance and enables us to remain faithful.
We are assured of love, mercy and righteousness on account of our faith. But faith is not simply to believe a doctrine to be true. Faith is proven by acting in line with what we believe. Furthermore, genuine faith in God and Jesus is evident by acting in line with what we believe, providing of course, that what we believe is true and in accord with God’s word.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that —and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26).
You may be wondering why I have seemingly digressed from the title of this article, “Caught up” – and from commenting on the opening passages of Scripture.
Paul taught in his letter to the church in Rome that:
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ (Romans 8:5-9).
Paul also exhorted the believers in Colosea:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived (Colossians 3:1-7).
When we believe in Jesus, are baptised in his name, are filled with the Holy Spirit, we no longer walk in the ways of the flesh according to the life we once lived. Our minds are no longer conformed to the pattern of the world. We are no longer under the supervision of the Law if we live by faith and keep in step with the Holy Spirit. We have died with Christ to the old former life in the flesh and we are raised to a new life in the spirit by the power of the Holy Spirit – this is the faith into which we have come through believing the gospel of the kingdom of God and Jesus our Saviour and King. We have become citizens of heaven – now. Not when we die physically, but now, through dying with Christ and being raised to new life by the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. What do we have to do to be assured of our salvation? Believe in Jesus and be born again from above, i.e. from heaven as citizens of heaven. When do we enter the kingdom of heaven? Only when we physically die, or when we are raised to the new life and begin to live by faith in the strength and revelation of the Holy Spirit? What assurance do we want and need of our salvation? None other than knowing Jesus and being known by him through his Spirit living in us.
However, if we do not have the assurance of His Spirit living in us – and if we are still living in the old way of the flesh, we may want to believe (in vain) – and even be inclined to believe – that we will surely still “go to heaven when we die”. But, if we are not citizens of heaven now, through being raised to new life by the Holy Spirit – and if we do not live by faith according to the teaching of our King who is in heaven now, then we are not really citizens of heaven, we have not entered the kingdom of God and neither do we walk by genuine faith. Do not look for a false and misleading assurance of a place in heaven only when you may die, if you have not yet been raised to new life by the Holy Spirit now.
If you are still lost in ignorance and enslaved to sin and unaware of the Holy Spirit, then pray for the Lord to save you and reveal himself to you, but don’t look for false assurance of one day being made righteous, if you do not walk in faithfulness and obedience to Jesus now. Do not believe a false gospel that denies the power of the Holy Spirit. If your mind is not “caught up” with the things of heaven, then neither should you expect the redemption of your body to be caught up and transformed into the likeness and immortality of Jesus the King of kings.
The righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:6-11).
You are called to the obedience that comes from faith. There is no genuine faith if it is void of obedience. You are not saved by merely claiming “to believe in Jesus”, because the devil also believes in Jesus and he hates and opposes Jesus and tries to keep people in the darkness and enslaved by their life in the realm of the flesh.
Unless we have been born again of the Holy Spirit. Unless we have been made a new humanity through the work of the Holy Spirit, we cannot claim to be a new creation and citizens of heaven. The citizens of heaven, who live as ambassadors of Jesus Christ – will eventually also be caught up – to be in his holy presence when their bodies die or when he appears in his glory at the close of the age. Are you “caught up”with your mind focused on the things that are above and with your eyes fixed upon Jesus, or are you still “caught up”with this world?
Do you believe this? Do you want to believe this? Or do you want some other assurance of eternal life in heaven in spite of your sins?