The Firstfruits of Salvation
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The Firstfruits of Salvation
Most Christian churches teach that all of humanity is lost—consigned to an eternally burning hellfire—unless they “get saved” by accepting Jesus Christ as personal Savior now!
You’ve probably heard television evangelists tell massive audiences that tomorrow may be too late. Many people become frightened into “making their decision for Christ” following an altar call. This belief implies that when Christ returns, He will be helpless to save anyone not already saved. But is this teaching found in the Bible?
To the contrary, God’s Word presents the concept of “firstfruits,” teaching that God is not trying to save everyone right now but is seeding the world with the first of future harvests.
The story of the two trees in Eden continues
Notice what happened after our first parents, Adam and Eve, rejected God and the gift of everlasting life:
“Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’—therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim [angelic beings] at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:22-24, emphasis added throughout).
The tree of life—representing access to salvation (eternal life)—became off limits to humankind. Since then the world has been barred from access to God and receiving eternal life, except for the comparative few God specially calls in His plan leading to His Kingdom.
God initially worked with an individual person here or a family there. We’re familiar with Noah, Moses, Abraham and David. Now God is using more people brought together in His Church and called for this purpose, yet still very few among the world’s masses. Jesus described His Church not as the giant churches we see today, but a “little flock” (Luke 12:32), relatively speaking. They are referred to in Scripture as the “firstfruits”—an agricultural picture for a small initial harvest like the first ripe stalks of wheat, barley or corn from a field, the first few ripe vegetables from a garden or the first ripe fruits from a tree or vine.
Far from trying to get every human being saved spiritually during mankind’s history, again except for the few He would call, God cut mankind off from salvation when Adam and Eve sinned and were expelled from the garden.
All you have to do is look at today’s headlines to see clearly this is not God’s world right now in terms of its society. Access to the tree of life remains very limited. By contrast we see, in a sense, wide open access to the tree Adam and Eve sinned in eating from, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Ever since they gave in to Satan in partaking of that tree, the world has been governed by him as the “prince of the power of the air,” an evil spiritual influence (Ephesians 2:2).
Jesus said that none can come to Him unless God the Father specially calls them (John 6:44, 65)—and, again, He has called relatively few at this time.
But please note that this does not mean those not called by the Father in this age are lost, as explained in our important Bible study guide God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind. The short version is simply this: At Christ’s return, the Father will call everybody then living, and after a period of 1,000 years He will resurrect to mortal life all the billions of people who had not yet been called, offering them at that time the opportunity for spiritual salvation. Thus all of mankind will be called, but each in his or her own time order. Here, though, our focus is on the firstfruits.
Firstfruits harvest and seed formation
Jesus referred to His people as “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). They currently represent just a sprinkling of truth around the world.
At this very moment God is planting and raising up His firstfruits for reaping as the beginning of much greater harvests in the future.
The Church today is pictured in Scripture as a firstfruits harvest—the sprouting seeds of God’s future Kingdom. Jesus Christ lives as the first of the firstfruits—the first to be ultimately harvested into the Kingdom.
As the apostle Paul wrote, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [i.e., of those who’ve died]” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
He elsewhere stated that “we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves,” eagerly awaiting our full transformation into God’s glorified, immortal children (Romans 8:23). So there are a limited number of people who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, with Jesus being the first to be fully transformed into glory.
Jesus Christ, the first of the firstfruits, prepared the earth for the seeding of God’s Kingdom. He was buried in the earth as a seed in death to lead the way for others to follow, giving life to God’s plan (John 12:24).
Looking back to the start of the process, in plant reproduction male sperm from pollen must fertilize female ovules to form a seed with an embryo, the development of which is enabled to proceed through implantation in the ground to germinate through absorbing water and nourishment from the soil. Likewise in human reproduction, the male sperm must fertilize the female ovum, forming an embryo that is able to develop through implantation in the womb, nourishing this new life.
This parallels the receiving of spiritual life. A person’s human spirit must be fertilized and nourished with the Spirit and Word of God, thus germinating spiritual understanding and eternal life (compare John 6:63, 68; 1 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Peter 1:23).
Again, only a few undergo this process prior to Christ’s second coming.
God is seeding now, not yet saving the world
As pointed out earlier, God is not trying to save the whole world now. Instead, He is laying the groundwork for a much larger harvest in the future, beginning in this age with His firstfruits.
Jesus told His disciples that He deliberately hid the truth from the masses: “It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11). This is why Christ spoke in parables (verse 13).
God’s first spiritual harvest of people is small. Throughout history God’s Church has been small and persecuted.
The Greek word translated “church,” ekklesia, literally means “called-out ones” in the sense of a group called to assemble out of a larger population. God handpicks His servants. Everybody can’t be “called out” or nobody would actually be called out from anybody else!
James 1:18 tells us regarding God the Father, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”
God is not trying to save the whole world now. Rather, He is seeding the world now with His firstfruits—the seeds of His Kingdom. This is pictured in the observance of the biblical Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, when the Israelites presented a special firstfruits offering.
It was on this day of Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, when the Holy Spirit came and entered into Jesus’ disciples, numbering just 120 at the time. It was the first time a sizeable group was spiritually converted at the same time. This was the beginning of the New Testament Church. Three thousand more were added later the same day.
“And they [the disciples] were all filled with the Holy Spirit . . . Then Peter said to them [the other people listening], ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:4, 38).
Being led by God’s Spirit is living a great miracle
Those who are truly Christians recognize that a great miracle has taken place in their lives. Being changed and led by God’s Spirit is one of the greatest miracles of all. It is truly a germination process, enabling human beings to understand God’s spiritual plan and be transformed.
The lives of those who received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 were changed dramatically. The book of Acts is replete with
the stories of these people’s lives and the impact they had on the society of that day. The change was so evident they were described as having “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Such was the dramatic, dynamic power of the Holy Spirit!
In Romans 8, Paul says that to be a son of God a person must be led by God’s Spirit (verse 14). He also points out that if a person doesn’t have God’s Spirit dwelling in him or her, then that person does not truly belong to God (verse 9).
It is through God’s Spirit, with Christ living in us, that we actually accomplish what we do as Christians—not through our own efforts. The glory and credit must go to God.
However, it isn’t enough to simply have and be led on occasion by God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit must be allowed to become the energizing force in our lives to produce the qualities of true Christianity.
We must ask ourselves if we are truly being led by God’s Spirit in all we do and think, allowing it to serve as the guiding force in our lives. Only through persisting in this process will we be ultimately saved as the firstfruits in God’s plan of salvation.
Experiencing the greatest miracle today
Being called by the Father, being baptized and receiving His Holy Spirit provide an outlook on life that is quite rare in our world today. Through the Holy Spirit we begin to look at life differently. Just as we must recognize the great power of God to have performed miracles in the days of the ancient Israelites, so we must not forget the power of God to work miracles in our lives today.
Whenever a person is granted God’s Holy Spirit, he or she becomes a walking miracle.
Those drawn by the Father to follow Christ today are granted, on repentance and baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Joining with our human Spirit, it is the impregnation of God life, making us His children, heirs of God (Romans 8:16-17).
The truth of salvation is that God is seeding the world today with His followers—His firstfruits. And those followers must have spiritual life conceived and germinated in their minds through the Spirit and Word of God. They will later help in the much greater harvest of fruit for God’s Kingdom yet to come.
What Does the Holy Spirit Do for Us?
To grasp how God’s Spirit works in our lives, we must understand what God’s Spirit is. In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is described as the power and essence of God at work in our lives. This divine power enables us to follow Him, being “led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14).
By the Spirit dwelling within us we are the children of God. What does God’s Holy Spirit do for us as Christians?
• God’s Spirit doesn’t drive, drag or push us around; it leads us. It will not prevent us from sinning, nor will it force us to do what’s right. It leads us, and we must be willing to follow.
• The Holy Spirit keeps us in contact with God’s mind. God’s Spirit works with our mind.
• Through the Holy Spirit, we can be influenced by God for the good. This is in contrast to the evil influence from the world around us and our own corrupt human nature.
• The Holy Spirit provides a deeper understanding of God’s Word and His will for humanity (1 Corinthians 2:9-11). Without that Spirit, a person cannot understand God’s divinely expressed Word and will, “for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (verse 14).
• The Holy Spirit makes overcoming sin possible. There is nothing too difficult for us with the power of God working in our lives.
• God’s Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. The apostle Paul, speaking for all of us, said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
• The Holy Spirit convicts our conscience and helps us see sin as it really is. Jesus Christ said it would “convict the world of sin” (John 16:8). God’s Spirit within us, working with our conscience, helps us to recognize and avoid sin. It “will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (same verse).
• The Holy Spirit produces godly fruit in our lives. Just as an apple tree produces apples, God’s Spirit produces a particular type of fruit in the life of a Christian—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
• The Holy Spirit comforts and encourages us. Jesus Christ promised to send His followers
“another Comforter” (John 14:16-17, King James Version). True comfort and reassurance come from the Spirit of God dwelling in us. We need not be unduly worried about the future or what may happen to us. God’s Spirit gives us the assurance that whatever happens will ultimately work out for the good “to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
(This is adapted from our study guide Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.)