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on and off the track

We demonstrate obedience to God by finding His positive purpose for us and then by staying on the right “track” to accomplish it.  God provides enough signposts and resources along this track to keep us on it.  He causes us to meet the right people, find the right jobs or tasks, and walk through the right doors of opportunity.  Satan and demons, on the other hand, arrange for us to meet the wrong people who do not have the things of God in mind (drug dealers, worldly-minded friends, manipulative spouses, “New Age” teachers); to have the wrong jobs or professions in which it is impossible to glorify Him (palm reader, astrologer, prostitute); and to take advantage of opportunities where personal benefit or gain, rather than the extolling of God or the well-being of others, will result (“get-rich-quick” schemes, selling something at an unreasonable profit, taking credit for someone else’s work).

When we disobey God, He sometimes will release us from His guidance (remember that He has given each one of us a choice and will not force us to choose Him and what He has to offer).  It is at such times that we are most likely to meet the wrong people or encounter the wrong circumstances to get us off the right track and on the wrong one.  People who are off of their right tracks will do just about anything they can to try to get and keep us off of ours.  By getting on the wrong track, we waste valuable time in fulfilling our positive function in God’s Plan.

We will remain off of the right track of our purpose until we confess our disobedience (sin), turn away from it (which may involve asking God to cause us to hate it), ask forgiveness (in the Name of Jesus), and request that He put us back on the right track again.  Unlike people, God never makes us feel worse by telling us, “I told you so!”, nor does He hold grudges against us when we admit our mistakes—no matter how bad.  Instead, God forgives us (1 John 1:9), removes our sins from us (Psalm 103:12), and forgets them (Isa. 43:25).  Then He gets on with the important business of getting us back on the right track (Psalm 25:8,9); usually we will feel like a huge weight has been lifted from our shoulders the moment we are back.  We never should be so ashamed of anything we have done that it prevents us from confessing it to God as the first step in reconciliation with Him.  Similarly, we never should believe that we have not done anything bad enough to cause God to turn away from us; this is pride, which God detests more than whatever we might have done to put ourselves in disfavor with Him.

For people who have not yet found their good-purpose track, they should seek God, through Jesus, to place them on it.  God will, at anytime, put anyone on track.  It does not matter what someone has done in the past, however appalling.  If that person expresses a willingness to do His purpose, God simply will cause everything that person ever did (stole, became an alcoholic, cheated, prostituted, performed incest, murdered—anything) to become part of His good Plan.

Sometimes, God even puts people on track who are not seeking for Him to do so.  For example, Paul (formerly Saul) was instrumental in persecuting and approving the killing of Christians (Acts 9:1,2, 26:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:6a; 1 Tim. 1:13a) until God put him on track (Acts 9:3-8, 22:6-11, 26:12-20; 1 Tim. 1:13b,14).  Then God forgave Paul’s past as an example to others of how merciful He can be.  That is how loving and non-judgmental God is—for a time.  However, if someone allows the time-limit to run out without getting on the track of God’s good purpose, which includes accepting Jesus as Lord, that person’s life will be taken; and he/she may have to face God’s final judgment and wrath in the afterlife.

temptations and tests

The purpose of school is to prepare us for the rest of our physical lives on this earth.  Similarly, this life here on earth is a learning experience which will prepare us for the afterlife in eternity.  Like school, where courses can be repeated if one fails, we are given multiple opportunities by God in life to find and perform the good purpose for which He created us.  And, like school, there are multiple measurements of our progress along the way to show God (and ourselves) whether or not we are performing optimally (or “learning the material” presented to us).

Nobody likes to be tested—at least I never did in school, nor do I in life.  But tests are necessary, and they will not go away.  Similar to examinations in school, we should feel badly if we “fail” and great if we “pass” life’s temptations and tests.  For instance, if I am tempted to do something bad (like open my big mouth when I should keep my harmful words to myself—James 3:6), I feel remorseful and defeated when I do the wrong thing but victorious and happy when I overcome the temptation and do the right thing—especially when I keep utmost in my mind that God is watching me to see which choice I will make.

There is a difference between “tempting” and “testing.”  God Himself does not tempt us (James 1:13b; 1 John 2:16); rather, He uses and allows Satan (Matt. 4:3; 1 Ths. 3:5b), demons (2 Cor. 12:7), other people (Mark 8:11), and our own evil lusts and desires (James 1:14) to tempt us.  But whenever and wherever temptation arises, be certain of this:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Cor. 10:13).

Although God does not tempt us directly, He does test us in the form of trials which measure our faith and our loyalty to Him (see “Abraham’s complete trust in God”: C-2, P-II).  Often, before presenting us with our primary purpose, He gives us certain responsibilities and talents (Matt. 25:14-30) to see what we will do with them.  If we do well (particularly if we perform them or invest them with His exaltation and glorification in mind), we are given more.  Moreover, some of God’s tests are trials which come to us to see how much we have learned, if anything, since the last test.

For instance, God may see to it that something or someone we really like is taken away from us to observe 1) if we are more attached to it/him/her than we are to God and 2) whether we will become angry with Him for having had it/him/her removed or will turn to Him for the comfort and solace which no one else can provide satisfactorily.  If we fail, we must repeat the learning process.  (Unfortunately, this might, in fact, entail losing virtually everything we have—so that we are forced, once and for all, either to curse Him with the ferocious rage that stems from relentless pride—Rev. 16:9,11—or to break down, humble ourselves, and plead for mercy, which He immediately will give).  If we pass, however, we can move on to the next level.

When things go wrong for us, there is a reason for it.  God allowed calamity after calamity to occur to Job, a blameless, upright man who served God with integrity (Job 1:8, 2:3).  Who are we to question what God does?  We are nobody!  We are mere dust that God blew life into.  When Job finally acknowledged that he was nothing and that God had a right to do whatever He pleased, God prospered Job much more than ever before.  Only our own foolish pride ever prevents this from happening.

In school, some examinations are too hard or are unfair.  Worldly temptations and God’s tests are neither.  In the case of temptations, we have been given the knowledge in the Word of God that tells us we should resist them (James 4:7b; 1 Pet. 5:9) and/or that God will provide a way out when sometimes we feel bound (through peer pressure, habits, addictions, or obsessions) to act on them (1 Cor. 10:13c).  Similarly, his tests are trials which we can get through (always with His help and guidance, if we ask for it) if we have been diligent to absorb what He has instructed us since our last test.  We cannot tell God we are “finished” with “school” if we have not completed our assignments and tests given by Him.

God gives earthly rewards and will give heavenly rewards to those who avoid temptations, do their assignments, and pass His tests.  (Salvation to eternal Life is not like other rewards; it is unique.  It is not attained after passing enough “tests” or by doing enough “good deeds”; it is a free gift received only after acknowledging Jesus’ atoning blood sacrifice for us and accepting Him as Lord and Savior—see “Jesus, our Passover Lamb”: C-4, P-I.)  We should have the goal of receiving all the rewards and honors God wants for us to have after “graduating” to eternal Life with Him.

finding purpose

How do we know what our purpose is?  Every person has a strong desire deep inside to do something.  Often this feeling arises in childhood, but it can become evident at any point in one’s life.  The Holy Spirit implants within each of us this desire or “dream,” even if we do not believe in God or have not accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  Others may distract us from our primary desire or persuade us to do other things; but the yearning to attain that certain, special goal keeps surfacing.  I feel that by believing in God and accepting Jesus into our lives, we are much more apt to discover and act upon our positive purpose rather than upon one implanted by Satan into our spirit and soul as a counterfeit (negative) purpose.  The latter can overshadow the desire and purpose instilled within someone by the Holy Spirit of God when that person is not under the protection and guidance of Jesus, due to his/her refusal to acknowledge Him as Lord.

The driving motivation for a positive purpose will not be anything of which God does not approve in His Word (the Bible).  For instance, if one’s primary reason for adopting a well-paying occupation is to obtain money to support a wild, self-indulgent, or thrill-seeking lifestyle, and/or so that one can gain a prestigious, enviable position in the eyes of other people, then that occupation is a means to a negative, rather than to a positive, purpose.  Or if one desires an occupation granting fame or power mainly so that one can gratify one’s craving to be in authority over others, to extol oneself in the eyes of others, and/or to be able to influence and manipulate others to do things which will be advantageous to oneself rather than to other people, then once again one is being dominated by a greedy, prideful soul rather than by God’s Holy Spirit.  (People like this often dislike their jobs but continue in them because they are “slaves” to their bad habits, possessions, and obsessions.)

If, on the other hand, one desires an occupation simply because the work itself is of service to others in need, because one wishes to give credit and glory to God for giving him/her a special gift or talent, or so that one can be significantly instrumental in the furtherance of the Gospel message in the world—either by contributing to (worthy) Christian ministries, missions, and outreaches, or directly by telling others about the saving grace of God through Jesus—then one likely will be working toward one’s good, God-given purpose.  Furthermore, one probably will have an internal peace and satisfaction which surpasses all natural, worldly understanding (Phil. 4:7).

In one’s content position of fulfilling the good purpose assigned by God, one even may be envied by others.  This is not because it is that person’s desire to be envied.  It is because other people rolling along on the wrong tracks, who still are struggling futilely to find their good purposes and who have not yet made peace with their Creator, long for and covet the peace of mind which is possessed by the person on the right track.

A person in a position which the world might judge as “less than successful” (for instance, janitor, maid, strawberry picker, or homemaker) often will have an inner peace and contentment which those in highly profitable or desirable positions lack.  (The world gauges success by warped standards of fortune, fame, and power; while God evaluates success by how well we perform the function He created us to perform.)  Furthermore, the person who humbly serves others and who does not do things for selfish gain often will be elevated to high positions and/or be given unique tasks and responsibilities, thus invoking jealousy in others.  In reality, either these other people are not performing the good function God intended for them; or, if they are, they eventually will acquire their own promotions and/or duties which have been tailored (by God) for them to receive.

purpose of the second birth

Every person on earth is born naturally once from biological parents.  However, Jesus said to Nicodemus (a Jewish Pharisee who put his faith in Jesus), “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again [from above], he cannot see the kingdom of God. ...  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:3,6).  I believe the second (spiritual) birth is essential before one can find one’s true, good purpose.  How does this second birth happen?  John gave the answer:

Yet to all who received [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:12,13).

Accepting and believing in Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior causes one to be “born again” by the Holy Spirit, because it is this Spirit of truth from the Father who testifies about Jesus as the Son of God (John 15:26; 1 John 5:6) and brings anyone to a saving, transforming knowledge of Him (2 Cor. 3:18).  But why is the second birth, rather than our first birth, the one by which we are saved and after which we may fulfill our positive purpose(s)?  The significance of the second birth has a long history.  Adam’s first-born and second-born sons were Cain and Abel, respectively.  God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice (because it involved the shedding of blood) but not with Cain’s (Gen. 4:3-5a; Heb. 11:4a).  Because of God’s favor upon Abel, he would have received God’s blessing and inheritance had not Cain become enraged with jealousy and killed him (Gen. 4:5b,8; Heb. 11:4bc).  Seth, the third-born son, took Abel’s place (Gen. 4:25) and received his inheritance; Noah and all the human race after him were/are descendants of Seth.

Centuries later, Abram (Abraham) had his first two sons: Ishmael and Isaac.  God chose to give the inheritance He had promised Abraham to Isaac, his second-born, rather than to Ishmael, his first-born (Gen. 17:19-21, 21:12c, 25:11a—see “Abraham’s complete trust in God”: C-2, P-II).  This is because Ishmael was the son of Hagar, a slave woman; but Isaac was the son of Sarah, a free woman (Gal. 4:22,23).  Similarly, at our first birth, we are slaves to sin (Psalm 51:5; Rom. 6:16,17a,20, 7:14b,23); but after our second birth, we are set free by the grace of God, through Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:18,22, 8:2; Eph. 2:8).  Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).  Through our “second birth” in Jesus, we are made heirs to all of God’s eternal promises made to Abraham.

The next case of the second-born son receiving the inheritance involved Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob (the latter later named Israel—Gen. 32:28).  Although Esau was the first-born, he sold Jacob his birthright for a mere bowl of stew (25:29-33), because he gave in to the temporary gratification of a physical want (hunger).  Later, Isaac, on his deathbed, blessed Jacob, the second-born (27:25-29); and God guaranteed Jacob the inheritance promised to Abraham and Isaac (28:12-15).

One of Jacob’s sons, Judah, also had twin boys.  At birth, Zerah put out his hand first; and the midwife put a scarlet thread on his wrist, saying, “This one came out first” (Gen. 38:28).  However, his brother, Perez, “broke out” before Zerah came out (38:29,30).  It was from the lineage of Perez, the second son out, that the Messiah, Jesus, would come (Matt. 1:1,3).

Another son of Jacob, Joseph, had two sons: Manasseh and Ephraim.  As he was dying, Jacob placed his right hand on the second-born, Ephraim; and he deliberately crossed over his left hand to put it on Manasseh, his older brother (Gen. 48:13,14).  By doing so, he “...put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh” (48:20c).  I also see the purposeful crossing of Jacob’s arms as symbolic of the cross on which Jesus died for us.  It is by the blood of Jesus, who sits “ the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven...” (Heb. 8:1b), that we as faithful believers will receive our eternal blessings and inheritance.

Finally, Paul, comparing Adam (the first man) and Jesus (the “second Adam” or “second man”), wrote to the believing Corinthians,

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.  So it is written:  “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam [Jesus], a life-giving spirit.  The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.  The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.  As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  And just as we [believers] have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven (1 Cor. 15:44b-49).

In a similar light, Paul wrote to the Romans,

Again, the gift of God [personal righteousness through Christ, leading to eternal salvation] is not like the result of the one man’s [Adam’s] sin:  The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:16,17).

Adam, God’s “first son,” sold his birthright through the sin of immediate gratification (as did Esau); so God gave his eternal inheritance to His “second son,” Jesus, who was without sin.  Only by being born again by the Holy Spirit, through Jesus, can our own spirits and souls be revived and can we receive the same everlasting inheritance.  Peter stressed this fact to believers:

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever” [Isa. 40:6cd,7a,8] (1 Pet. 1:23,24).

On our own, without experiencing the “second birth,” our purpose in God’s Plan will be as unnoteworthy and insignificant, in the eternal scheme of things, as withered grass or dried flowers.  But, by being born again spiritually, in the eternal Word of God, we can make a great and positive impact on other people here and now and obtain a glory which never fades in God’s Kingdom to come.

personal plans and endeavors

King Solomon rightly stated, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Prov. 19:21).  There are many things we feel we want to accomplish or to see happen, but we should allow God’s purpose for us to prevail over our own personal, selfish plans.  Whatever we want to do, if it is not in the perfect Will or the allowable Will of the Father, it is not wise to go ahead and do it (see “Will”: C-6, P-II).  It is a mistake—often a painful or a tragic one—to make plans before we know God’s Will in certain circumstances; if our visions are not approved by God, we ultimately will not see them materialize.  Of course, no one knows the perfect Will of the Father in all cases; but being familiar with His Word and being led by His Holy Spirit, whose Mind is that of the Father, does allow us to know His Will in most cases.

Whether you are wanting to find a new job, deciding where to go on vacation, or thinking about getting married, you need to let God be in on your decision-making process.  However convinced you are that you are making the correct choice, if you are not doing it in accordance with God’s perfect Will (even though He may allow it) and good purpose for your life, you are making an “off-the-right-track” decision.  It may delay (or even detour) you in accomplishing the long-term purpose He has set out for you.

In all such cases, ask the Father, in the Name of Jesus, to speak to you by His Holy Spirit to tell you whether or not you are on the right track.  If, through your conscience, God tells you something you do not expect or do not want to hear, then ask Him to tell you, in His great Wisdom, what you should do—and then be responsive to it, even though it may mean you will not get the immediate gratification or satisfaction that you had wanted or intended.  Remember:  1) God tests us to see if we will do things His way (and then blesses and rewards if we do), and 2) God often works in mysterious ways which are beyond the capabilities of our minds to comprehend, because we do not see the “big picture” down the corridor of time as He does.

“good” vs. “right”

There are things we do which we believe are “good” in the eyes of God.  But doing “good” does not meet necessarily with God’s approval; whereas, doing “right” (according to His perfect Will) does.  For instance, if you visit an unbelieving, unsaved person in the hospital who is about to die, and you fluff up her pillow, hold her hand, and speak some words of comfort to her, you are doing a “good” thing by meeting some of her physical and emotional needs.  But if you do not tell her very simply and plainly that Jesus Loves her and wants her to be with Him for eternity, and that all she needs to do is accept Him as her personal Savior, then you are not doing the “right” thing, because you are failing to meet her eternal spiritual need—which infinitely is more important.  You also are neglecting to consider God’s Plan, because she may be someone quite capable of giving God the eternal Love He desires if she is resurrected into eternal Life.

God will not judge us by, nor is He impressed by, the good deeds we have done on our own; but He will judge us by seeing if we did what He told us to do, which always ultimately glorifies Him.  God is not interested in “personal success” and “human interest” stories, especially if we judge our own accomplishments and actions by what other people do in similar situations (that is, by the twisted standards of the world).  Often, doing the right thing is not doing the easy thing.

living connections

Miles Monroe has noted that God spoke to the dirt (land) to produce plants and animals (Gen. 1:11,24); and from the dust of the earth God formed the physical body of man, into which He breathed Life (2:7) from Himself.  God desired to have living things, so he made dirt and dust to get Him what he wanted; this was the original purpose of dirt and dust.  Similarly, the purpose of the seas was to contain all the creatures made to live within them (1:21a).

To exist, plants must remain connected to dirt, animals which move along the ground must do the same (that is, remain “connected” to the land to be sustained), and sea creatures must remain in an aquatic environment to live.  Our spirits and souls originated with God but were just placed in male and female “houses” made of dust.  Therefore, we must stay attached to God to have real Life.  A plant’s staying hooked to the soil is not good for the soil; it is good for the plant.  In the same way, remaining in God is not so much good for Him as it is beneficial to us.  If we are off of our good track for too long, we will die—and never again get back on.  Jesus did not say that He was “a” way; He claimed to be the only way to the Father (John 14:6).  Jesus lights our path (good track) to show us which way to go.

In eternity past, we merely were thoughts in the Mind of God.  At our conceptions, we were given our own distinct identities.  If we choose to reinforce our connection with God now, by embracing His Plan and our good purposes, we eventually will be returned to His presence, although we will retain our separate, individual identities forever (1 Cor. 15:41,42a).  On the other hand, if we decide to reject God’s Plan and accept a negative purpose, we ultimately will not go back to Him; our connecting cord will be severed, and we literally will be on our own, as we have chosen, for eternity.

Satan tries to convince us that he can satisfy our needs and be our source of being, and that he can provide for our every desire, because he appeals to the physical part of us—which is nothing but perishable dust.  It is our choice, not God’s choice, as to whether we will bond with Satan—resulting in an eternity in “outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30) where there is no connection with God—or else co-exist in God’s glorious presence for the rest of eternity.  It is vitally important, though, to understand that there never will be spirit or soul satisfaction outside the presence of God.

Proceed to Chapter 15, Part III

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Copyright © 1998– by Ted M. Montgomery, O.D.  Most rights reserved.