Dramatic Obscurity–When Law Collides with Grace

The most dramatic revelations often arrive in the most subtle packages. Those who are sensitive to the “still small voice” are capable of recognizing the enormous significance, while most just drift on by.

The Savior of humanity came in shocking obscurity: a helpless baby, born to a poor couple, outside of his hometown and away from human dwellings. We are told that he came with nothing that would make us desire him—plain and boring to the point of individual insignificance. And yet, he was and remains the Creator of all: recognized by a few; rejected by most.

So it is with revelations of truth in Scripture. One of the most significant issues, in understanding the ongoing will of a holy God, is explaining how his own defined Law, given through Moses, has changed in how it relates to Christians. No other issue is cited within Scripture as more divisive or damaging to the early Church than this issue. Not even paganism, idolatry, sexual immorality, greed or power are identified as deceitful in turning believers away from Christ than syncretism of the Law into Grace. And it continues to distort a huge part of Christian doctrine even to this day.

It is the basis for the double-curse: “may they be eternally condemned”—those who preach and teach that Christians need to keep practicing commands given through the Old Covenant. The Gospels and Acts record continual confrontations over this subject. Romans and Galatians were written specifically to refute the Jewish distortion of pushing the Mosaic Law on Christians who had come to faith by grace. It is the main conflict addressed in Scripture by the Apostle Paul. The writer of Hebrews focuses on the supremacy of Christ and his New Covenant expectations, and how these have made the former system “obsolete”. In fact, nearly every letter written in the New Testament documents this struggle of theology in grasping how a God-given system, known as “the Law”, could shift in application upon believers while still remaining the breathed word of God.

The President of a Christian University preached last week to his student body that Christians who keep the laws given through Moses, although not specifically saved by their efforts, will be more rewarded in Heaven than those who follow Jesus without such obedience. The conflict rages on!

What you believe about this issue will directly determine whether you are an imperfect-and-righteous Christian who lives by their faith, or a professing Christian who is “alienated from Christ”.

Early translators of Scripture added chapters and headings to various sections of the Bible, in a sincere human effort to help students in their study and preachers in their references to God’s word. One of those sections, placed within Luke’s Gospel, and in the middle of a chapter, falls under the subtle heading of “Additional Teachings”. It is part of an uninterrupted discourse by Jesus—all red letter words.

It is a curious heading, because it gives the impression that those words recorded by Luke don’t appear to fit with anything leading up to it, nor to what follows. It is as if they were an after-thought, or a recording of Jesus’ words that somehow lost connection with a changing context. They appear out-of-place. They are like a still small voice, that most pass by with little recognition, and even less interest, while possessing enormous significance to those with ears to hear.

Within this passage, the unexpected and often ill-defined statement is made:

“the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.”

[The thought was to break this into several chunks here, but with the aim of teaching with consistency on difficult subjects, this will be presented as a whole].

Transitions are often the most difficult part of travel. When an airplane crosses into the upper atmosphere, there is often a stomach-stirring transition called turbulence. When a body moves from a warm fire into the cold outdoors, the skin complains with a swollen layer of goosebumps. Eating is a pleasure that most enjoy, but the transition to emptying the leftovers is an unpleasant reality that rightly gets hidden in a private closet.

In the plan of God, such a transition makes for a rocky shift between Old and New Covenant. What is defined in holy Scripture as two different contractual agreements between God, and those he accepts as genuine believers, has jolted the atmosphere with a turbulence of spirit that will make even the most seasoned sea-captain puke overboard.

The Lord declared his expectation upon his people, through his servant Moses, in the form of a system of worship and obedience for daily living, encapsulated in the term: the Law. It was holy and perfect. It remains just as godly and important in hearing the voice of God as ever. Through the incarnation of God in Jesus, a new form of worship and expectation upon daily living has been introduced, encapsulated in the term: Grace.

Biblically, the former is called old, the latter is identified as new. The systems have changed; God remains the same yesterday-today-and-forever. However, the air has become electrified, and all who come to God will be confronted with convulsions over the collision between Law and Grace.

God is always in agreement with himself and so the truth spoken and revealed through both Law and Grace are consistent and valid at all times. His covenant systems, however, are incompatible. Scripture declares, “he set aside the former, in order to establish the latter.” The resulting turbulence has caused untold grief and distress for believers for the entire existence of the Church.

Last time, we introduced the idea of hidden truth packaged in unlikely and unexpected ways, so that only the discerning who can hear the subtle references of the Holy Spirit will catch what most mistake as irrelevant and trivial. The following passages, recorded by both Luke and Matthew, present one of the most dramatic revelations on this juxtaposition between Law and Grace in all of the Bible:

“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Lu 16:16-18)

“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears. Let him hear.” (Mt 11:12-14)

The center of this statement revolves around the truth that the kingdom is experiencing violence and the violent take it by force. It is amazing the diversity of opinions on what this means.

One well known commentator says that this means there is only a brief time remaining until the kingdom of God arrives, so Christians need to “rush into it, without delay, as the Romans are about to do into Jerusalem.” This interpretation has absolutely nothing to do with the context that speaks of the transition between the Law being preached and the gospel of the kingdom.

Another commentator says that “sinners, all indiscriminately, are pressing into it” and that those who are under the Law are missing out. Although the Jews as a whole were rejecting Jesus and his kingdom message, it is a meaningless statement to suggest that sinners are pushing into it without discriminating consideration. The idea of being saved, without any mental or spiritual consideration is unbiblical, and probably an extension from the popular belief that God has predestined a group who will be saved and they don’t even have to know anything to just push their way into salvation.

A broadly accepted commentator writes that believers are to press into the kingdom with a “holy violence” that strives against the stream, contrary to the main crowd. He goes on to suggest that Jesus is making a distinction between a moral law and a ceremonial law, upholding the necessity of still practicing the former, but not needing to do the ritual parts. The problem here is that God never makes such a division of his commands—all God’s laws are moral, such that disobedience to a ritual is punishable by the same condemnation as all other types of commands. Although it may be true in other passages that the Lord expects believers to come out and live separate from the mainstream, this passage is not presented in that context. This one is about the confluence where the Mosaic Law meets the gospel of grace.

In one commentator’s opinion, the Old Covenant Law enforced “some things which were connived at by the law, for the preventing of greater mischiefs, the permission of which the gospel has indeed taken away, but without any detriment or disparagement to the law, as in the case of divorce.” In this view, divorce under Moses was focused on restraining further mischief, but under the gospel that has been taken away—but Jesus is clearly adding more restraint, not less, so again this interpretation is skewed.

Another modern commentator claims that Jesus is answering the objection that the Mosaic covenant and its moral demands are outdated, such that divorce is used to add further limits. Again, this writer assumes that this passage is recorded to preserve that Law, not to reveal anything about the transition between the ending of preaching that Law and into the preaching of the kingdom. Regarding the violence reference, he suggests that Luke is intentionally tempering Matthew’s stronger language, and that it just means “ordinary people eager to enter”. In other words, he completely rejects the meaning of the words violence and force which both writer’s of Scripture document.

Several commentators, as seen in volumes that parallel several well known scholars, completely skip this passage, avoiding any exposure to teaching what these words of Jesus actually mean.

In every example above, all the commentators take this passage in very different ways, with one exception: they commonly think it is recorded to teach that Christians need to keep practicing that former Law. This belief hasn’t changed since the start of the Church. It continues to dominate the landscape of Christian belief—that the Mosaic Law, or some hybrid idea of a moral law, remains as expected by God upon the practices and worship of believers.

What none of the numerous commentators acknowledged was the Spirit’s distinction between what Jesus taught and what Moses taught, as it applies to those who profess to believe in God:

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (Jn 1:17)

This passage presents these two teachers of God’s words in contrast, not as extensions one-to-the-other. The enormous irony to the whole issue is that the Lord was the Word who spoke the Law as well as the Word who spoke Grace. Nevertheless, the reader should listen carefully to the distinction that God reveals, for as was declared at the Transfiguration, that placed Jesus together with Moses (the Law giver) and Elijah (the Prophet): “this is my Son, listen to him!”

As the Lord warned the followers of John the Baptist and the crowds, who specifically came to him to question whether his teachings and actions were supportive of what their Law declared about the Messiah: “Blessed are those who don’t fall away on account of me”. This theological turbulence, in how Jesus confronted issues where the Law and Grace intersected in the minds of believers, often so disturbed those following Jesus “that they no longer walked with him”.

That doesn’t mean they stopped thinking of themselves as Jews, any more than those who think they remain Christians, but who continue to live according to that Law of Moses. They passionately believe they will be saved, but they have refused to bow to what the Lord taught about this shift of focus between Law and Grace. It didn’t actually matter that he was speaking truth; what he said and did often confronted their comfort zone so violently that they vehemently rejected him in order to sustain their traditional views. That remains the primary obstacle on this same issue for many professing Christians to this day.

Scripture declares that the Law came through Moses, grace came through Jesus. Regarding that Law, the Apostle Paul wrote that Christians are “no longer under law, but under grace”. He goes on to define his own meaning by saying that those who believe that observing the commands given to Israel will ensure they are right with God, will find in the end that they are “alienated from Christ”. Why such a severe reaction? Because that Law is not compatible with grace, and those who insist on continuing in it reject the new approach that Jesus taught. A believer can’t do both because they focus on different objectives and rely on different methods.

This truth gets at the heart and core of the New Covenant gospel teaching on the kingdom of God. Hanging onto the Law, or some vain attempt to defend practicing aspects of that Law, will prevent a believer from grasping the revelation of grace. God will not accept overlap in anyone other than his Son. That Law pointed to and was intended to find its culminating fulfillment in Jesus. No other human in history could do that. Grace is taught as a focus of faith upon Jesus. No other human in history can have grace point to them. Jesus alone is the focus for both. Both systems of worship find their glorious objective in him.

Not only is it sacrilege to assume that the Law or Grace focuses on anyone other than Jesus, no other human is capable of practicing both simultaneously. This is the point of turbulence, so fasten your seat belts and get your eyes focused on a stable object that isn’t swirling about, namely Jesus.

The Law and Prophets–speaking of their messages as part of the Old Covenant system (rather than of individual prophets)–were allowed to be taught and followed until the time of John the Baptist. Whether that means the start of John’s ministry, somewhere mid-stream, or until his days were concluded, hardly matters to the meaning, because the focus here is that Jesus was going to change the approach through which people came to and followed God. The time of John is used as a marker of a seismic shift in how people need to relate to God, but the actual shift itself revolves around Jesus. He is the lightning rod of a new covenant and an entirely new way of living.

Previously, the Law dictated step-by-step directions on how to walk before a holy God. The people could identify and measure who belonged to God, how to worship him, how to get right with him, when to do just about everything, including when and where to defecate and how to deal with mold. The days and times and ages and ingredients were all spelled out in exhausting detail.

Through Jesus, the concept of how to walk before a holy God remains just as significant, but the color-coding has completely changed. Grace teaches that God has done all the detail necessary to please a holy God and a believer can be credited with this righteousness by “living by faith”. This idea of faith is two-fold: the first is that a person must put their trust in Jesus, what he has accomplished, and what he declares. The second, is that such a professing believer must also live by faith and not by sight.

Listen carefully; grace does not teach: live by faith and back it up with sight. Grace does not teach that a Christian can live by faith as the heart’s magnification of the law. Grace does not teach that a believer can please God by putting faith in Jesus while supplementing it with days, seasons, years, and sabbaths.

Living by faith means that we have to seek an entirely new approach toward how to figure out the detail of how, when, how much, to whom, and in what way to live Christlike. God hasn’t changed his expectation that his followers “be holy”. In other words we have to choose to submit to a system of living that either allows self-assessment—like the Law; or we surrender to living according to the Spirit’s direction—which doesn’t fit well with self-measuring.

The two approaches are not compatible–like new wine in old wineskins, which if combined will ruin both–because they require completely different methods and objectives. A person who thinks they can apply parts of the Old Covenant to how they live, will place those legal, step-by-step practices as an obstacle in front of their ability to trust the Spirit for guidance on what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and every possible detail on how to reflect Jesus in daily living.

A Christian who holds to Jesus’ teachings, rather than to Moses’ teachings, will find themselves dependent upon God intervening and guiding them every step of the way. They won’t claim to know what exactly to do at a difficult moment or situation, rather they will strain for recognition of that still-small-voice. They won’t look for some legal definition on what to do, but instead will live by faith that the Holy Spirit promises to guide believers into all truth. Such a believer won’t be able to measure their performance, nor outwardly identify a race of people that belong to God, because none of it will be measurable or controllable by sight, or by human, fleshly methods, or by checking the box of Law-keeping.

We are told that “it is for freedom that we have been set free”. Such a freedom of grace, that just has boundaries, but very few details on how to live in daily life or how to respond to relationships or conflict, seems scary, especially to those who have found safety in their traditions, their laws, their practices, and their ability to press those same expectations on other believers.

Again we are told, “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial”. Such wide open permission, in the name of grace, seems like chaos. No wonder many well-meaning church leaders, like their Jewish counterparts, have introduced religious restrictions and doctrinal expectations on fellow believers, because living by pure faith, without some kind of measurable standard is unthinkable.

But that is where the error is really a function of blindness. Grace is not lawlessness. As Paul wrote to those who retorted that without the Law, Christians would go on sinning, “God forbid”. True Christians have died to sin. It is not the Law that keeps them away from sin, but their faith and desire to please the Lord. This new approach is scripturally called “the law of Christ”, and in context is specifically set in contrast to the Mosaic Law. The standard has shifted from the Ten Commandments to the Life and words of Jesus. Faithful believers measure their walk with God by how the Spirit leads them in harmony with New Covenant teachings in Scripture. They determine when to act or restrain their involvement per how the Spirit directs them, and not by commands that were part of an old system.

Believers don’t live in sin because they have the seed of Jesus actively expanding in them—the Holy Spirit—not because they keep the Law. Believers don’t need a command not to murder, because grace teaches that, just like Jesus, we don’t do any harm to our neighbors. Christians don’t look to the command “do not worship idols”, because our devotion is to God in Christ-alone, so much that we willingly demonstrate it by putting our own fleshly desires for this life to death so as to make more room for the desires of the Spirit. We don’t need a sabbath rest command, because as the book of Hebrews declares, a new rest has been announced such that we find our complete satisfaction and rest in our belief in Christ.

Again, those who try to also keep the Law, put that system in the way of sensing the direction of the Spirit. It becomes an obstacle to living by faith. That is why grace teaches that Christians are not under law, but grace. This has nothing to do with some mystical separation between moral and ceremonial laws; rather, it is a difference between what we depend upon to know how to follow a holy God—the Law or the Spirit of Grace.

So back to our revelation in Luke’s Gospel. The previous system in how to follow God was presented in the Law and through the Prophets up until the astounding transition of John the Baptist, who was sent to prepare the way so people could receive Jesus as God, as well as his new covenant method in how to follow God. Not that John new all those details, but Scripture tells us that is what God was doing through him.

Many were unwilling to accept Jesus as Immanuel, because their tradition interpreted the biblical revelation that their was only one God in such a way that they were incapable of understanding how this man could be God. As Luke records, “they rejected God’s purposes for them, because they refused to be baptized by John” and insisted on adhering to the Mosaic Law. The turbulence was too much for them, and without baptism (which their law did not teach), they could not hang on through the transition. They rejected God’s purpose that people accept Jesus as God. They also rejected God’s purpose that believers live like Abraham, through faith. They chose the Law over Jesus, just like many professing Christians do to this day.

From that pivotal moment in history, the Law stopped being preached by those who actually served God, so that grace could become the new method of worship and living for God. Because it is a new method that emphasizes faith through dependence upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the activity of believers is much more fluid and dynamic. Think about this carefully—where there is freedom, there is much less structure that can be recognized, repeated, or promoted. It can look and feel out-of-control to those who can’t see the guiding presence of the Spirit, nor the devoted heart of the believer to love and obey through faith rather than through sight.

Perhaps you may have seen salmon returning upstream, where the waters become shallow. Or maybe you have watched fish that gather and jump around a fish-ladder to try and reach their spawning grounds. The water is frothy, tails and fins are slapping the water and other fish. The whole seen looks crazy with activity, passion, and chaos. Yet, every one of those little creatures is focused on the same objective. There is nothing crazy or insane about their efforts. Rather, they are all working toward the same ultimate goal. So it is with Christians.

We have been given freedom to follow Christ by faith under this new covenant system of grace. We may not stand neatly in line, like kindergarten kids being led into class. As such, the scene may appear to outsiders as lawless, when in reality, each believer is trying to use their freedom to please God with their life by sensing through the Spirit of faith how to reflect him, how to care for others they bump into, and how to seek and offer forgiveness when conflict arises.

This approach results in violent activity that doesn’t have the neat, orderly appearance of one defined by laws, but that is only a surface observation. It remains true, that without specific laws that define every step of life, we are bound to make a lot of mistakes, which will result in the kingdom experiencing violence, but God remains in complete control. The secret is that he has chosen to control this menagerie by an internal guide rather than an external one.

Christians are very likely to bump shoulders, to rush like fans toward the music star on stage, to inadvertently offend each other, and while representing Jesus to even be the fragrance of Christ that smells like the stench of death to outsiders. This approach of grace gives a wide door of operation to believers. It also gives room for partial believers, false believers, and outright wolves and weeds to enter the kingdom through the simple claim of faith in Jesus.

The church is cautioned against witch hunts. We are told to separate from and avoid those who distort the truth and don’t live according to this gospel, but we are not to go about trying to root out the evil that has violently entered the kingdom. The Lord has commanded that the hidden weeds be left in the ground with the wheat, until the time of the end when he will separate Christians like sheep and goats. The prophecy is that the chaff will be removed from the kingdom by angels at the return of Christ, but in the mean time, the kingdom is advancing with violence from every corner. Although we are not to try and purify the church by our own efforts and labels of who is godly and who is an impostor, we are warned that the resulting turbulence can make us spiritually sick if we don’t make distinctions in our associations:

“But avoid foolish controversies…about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Tit 3:9-11)

Those who insist on pushing the Mosaic Law on Christians, even after confronted with the gospel of grace, are self-condemned, and faithful Christians who encounter such people in the Church are commanded to personally break off all contact with such individuals or risk their own contamination. This threat is so serious to our own salvation and identity as a disciple of Christ, that Jesus says it must be applied even if that person is a family member.

Like Simon Magus, the magician who was baptized after watching Philip do amazing miracles; or, like some of those elders in Ephesus that Paul said would become wolves and harm the church; so this method of grace allows for people to enter the Lord’s kingdom with violent activity. True believers will respond with increasing grace and forgiveness, humbly repenting of their own shortcomings in the process. Either way, the forceful grab onto it with a force of will and activity that desperately needs greater refinement.

In other words, what may be allowed to be forceful, violent, and seemingly lawless, needs to mature. The kingdom may be suffering violence on the front end, but true believers will be maturing into a more orderly and dignified body, if they respond to the biblical instructions under the New Covenant. As Paul taught, “the spirit of the prophet is subject to the control of the prophet.” Because God is a God of order, not disorder. With this understanding, the Christian is informed that although they may be allowed some freedom in how they operate, they need to seek greater orderliness by intentionally choosing the self-control of restraining their internal desires and impulses to increasingly mature submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Grace seems lawless to those who can’t see either the Spirit or the purpose for why God has called believers to a new system of faith. The former system of Law dictated orderliness; the new system invites believers to participate in becoming orderly by willing submission to the Spirit while traveling through an environment of freedom. We do it not because we are commanded, but because we desire to reflect the heart of God who does everything decently and in order. We look to Christ for our standard.

This dependence is a matter of how we find direction for our lives, rather than an issue of whether or not the words of that former Law remain impactful upon Christians. This is a very important distinction. The entire Bible speaks God’s word and none of it is better or more truthful than another. That is why Jesus declared in this context that not one detail of the words spoken in that Law would either disappear or fail to come about. That Law still teaches and remains a valid declaration from God; however, the Old Covenant commands themselves were part of a limited system of worship and practice that only applied to ancient Israel until the One to whom it referred had come, and never to Gentiles (see Dt 5:3 and Gal 3:25).

When Luke notes Jesus’ words about divorce in this section, it likely appears like a complete sideline reference that doesn’t fit the context, but with the above understanding in mind, consider what it reveals about how the Lord will deal with those who use their freedom in pursuit of the kingdom in ways that negatively impact others.

Believers may well have a wide and seemingly boundless degree of freedom in their choices, but that permission doesn’t translate into approval from God. We may have permission, but we will still have to answer for every choice, action, word, and thought. In terms of marriage, if a believer divorces their mate, they cause violence to both parties and expose both to the desperate need for intimate relationship. That need, if pursued, will result in having sexual relations with another person, while we remain bound-for-life-until-death-do-us-part with our first mate. That is why this and several other Bible passages declare that divorce will cause adultery.

Many who want to justify their natural desire to break away from their marriage commitment, will change the biblical “explanation” that is given in context into an “excuse”. So, where the Lord stated, “except for marital unfaithfulness”, he explained the reason why divorce becomes adultery. He did not provide an excuse to get divorced and then remarried. The point here is that a person’s freedom to get divorced impacts another person in a very hurtful way and causes them to become vulnerable to stumbling into sin, except for the one case where that mate has already caused themselves to be identified before God as an adulterer by virtue of their own actions of marital unfaithfulness. Under either conditions, when divorce has occurred, the command to Christians, through Paul is “remain single” or reconcile with your mate.

This example of divorce and how the freedoms to choose can cause violence upon others that God will judge upon the one who puts others in such a position, is the same truth repeated in the same sermon when Jesus spoke about those who cause one of these little ones to stumble. Sin will occur, the Lord reveals, but “woe to the one through whom it comes”.

Grace teaches salvation through faith in Jesus, but it also warns believers that they had better produce fruit in keeping with repentance that can only be developed when connected to the Vine of Christ. In other words, it is only through faithfully following the lead of the Spirit, in contrast to any methods of human measurement or control, including the Mosaic Law, whereby a Christian can mature in the fruitful character and likeness of Jesus.

Jesus’ teaching in the passage immediately follows his statement that what man values is highly detestable in God’s sight, to which he announces the contrast between the Law and grace. The Law was highly valued, even more so than Christ himself, by the religious believers in that day, and sadly it continues to be highly valued over the biblical gospel of grace through faith in Jesus that ought to be taught today.

The parable immediately following this text, is that of the rich man and Lazarus, which most Christians distort into a text about the afterlife, and thereby completely miss the contextual connection to this revelation about the Law and Grace. What Jesus reveals in this parable—remember the Bible declares that he never spoke to the people except by parable—was that ultimately both the Law and Grace speak the truth that God wants known.

There were a few back when it was in effect, very few, who heard God through that Law. Those who did, like Moses, Joshua, and David, would be the same type of people who would still be able to hear the truth through the new system and preaching of the kingdom. On the other hand, the majority who did not listen carefully to the words of that Law, are the same type of people who will never listen, not even if they witness dramatic miracles, like the dead being raised to life. The point is that God speaks truth, and those who respond in faith hear. Whether or not someone tries to continue practicing that old Law is irrelevant to being able to hear and follow God. Those who think they can follow Jesus better while striving to measure their activity and beliefs through the Old Covenant commands are deceiving themselves by placing a religious idol—that former Law—in their way of living by faith through dependence upon the Spirit.

Let go of the Law and let Christ be the Lord and lead of your every thought, action, decision, desire, and response while you try to mature in the Spirit, as you rejoice in your freedoms and use them to restrain your self-indulgence for the sake of helping those around you who are also experiencing the violence of activity and learning that is occurring at the threshold of the kingdom.

Remember, the peace offered at this time is designed primarily for the inside, while we all experience the turmoil and turbulence of suffering, persecution, and transformation around us.

Posted in Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gideon Complex

Sickness and disease are most often acquired as a social condition, rather than by isolated infection. Much like sin, contagions are typically transferred from those around us; and, in spite of our cautions, are most often passed on to those we love. In this manner, diseases have wiped out entire groups of people. Such physiological distortions can also be seen in disabilities that are more common in certain groups than in others.

One of those distortions is the Gideon Complex. There are certain social groups in which this disorder is more commonly recognized, but it is a threat that can infect anyone who is exposed, and thus should be something that we all strive to identify, avoid, and remedy.

The Gideon Complex is a distorted basis of belief that requires human observation in order to accept something. The idea is that only dramatic manifestations—miracles, signs, and wonders—justify belief. Such a person must see-to-believe.

This was what the Bible reveals that the Israelite Army General, Gideon, needed in order to accept the victory promised by God. He requested that God cause the morning dew to saturate the fleece while keeping the surrounding ground bone-dry. Then he asked for the reverse to be displayed, with the ground wet with dew, but the fleece completely dry. Then he believed.

The Gideon Complex is what could be considered a childhood illness. It is an immature approach to belief, and one that is criticized by God for those who ought to be more mature in their faith.

Miracles, signs and wonders provided by God are intended to be an aid to belief and a confirmation of what he declares, but not the basis for faith. It is a tool through which God draws our attention, like a burning bush that is not being consumed by fire and so arouses our curiosity to draw near for closer inspection. Such manifestations are designed to turn our focus toward God, but they are not to be the reason for our faith.

The basis for faith, both for Christians and those who trod the earth in ancient times, ought to be established upon the word of God. It is what God declares that we are to believe. The Lord expects that we take him at his word, without demanding “proof” that we can control, measure, or determine if it is sufficiently amazing and worthy of our belief.

“For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”. (Rev 19:10)

We are informed from heaven itself that it is the words testified through and by Jesus (which is all of Scripture for us today) that forms the basis of truth and knowledge for all that God professes. There is no other reliable source of revelation or knowledge. All that is true and right must fit and be expressed in submission to the word of God. This is why Jesus declared that his words were both “spirit and life”.

Those who hold to the words taught by Jesus are the only ones recognized as true disciples of Christ, and thus they are the only ones who will be granted the right of knowing the truth that sets us free (Jn 8:31-32). This significance is the likely reason John introduces Jesus in his Gospel as “the Word that was with God and was God”. For a Christian, this model is why we are taught: “I believe, therefore I speak”. Taking God at his declared word is intended to produce the continued declaration of that spoken truth.

Faith accepts what God speaks, and in turn professes it on through our actions and words. Believers must accept God by taking him at his revealed word–demanding miracles, evidence, proof, and things we can measure or control are all pursuits of idolatry.

The apostle Thomas suffered from the Gideon Complex.

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (Jn 20:25)

He demanded proof that he could control, a manifestation of scientific observation, as the basis for his faith. By the grace of God, Jesus provided it for him, but the Lord had more to say about this:

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (v. 29)

This blessing of God will be given only to those who take God at his word, without insisting on dramatic proof. This Gideon Complex was so common in Jesus’ day, that he states that it was a social disease that infected the entire nation of Jews:

“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you will never believe.” (Jn 4:48)

“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. (1 Cor 1:22-23)

The sin of disbelief infects both social groups of Jews and Gentiles, but in different strains. To a Jew, belief needs supernatural displays. To Greeks—or in context, those who think they are educated and smart—they require a foundation that they can control through their own smarts and reasoning ability. In both cases, belief is formed on a foundation of human observation and control, and in nether case is it formed on what is preached—that pure declaration of the word of God.

As a group, the Jews—most likely meaning the entire racial group of Israelites—had come to define belief in their own minds as something that required a miracle to justify. They didn’t even comprehend that belief was something that could be formed simply by accepting what God says. This is why, when Jesus declared that believing God was the work that he expects of people, they automatically replied with “what miracle will you perform, so we can believe”. They had lost all comprehension of accepting what God declares, and had come to the distorted view that belief should only happen through dramatic manifestations that they could witness.

It is true that God often provides signs to help people in their belief, or to focus the attention where he wants it, but it was never intended to become the basis for such belief. This is the point made in Hebrews chapter 11 that celebrates the amazing faith of the patriarchs, who died “without having received what was promised”. They believed what God promised and did not insist on receiving either proof or the actual fulfillment in this life. They didn’t depend upon manifestations, but took God at his word.

This disease was so pervasive among the Jews, that when the Gentile Roman soldier said that Jesus didn’t need to show up and perform a miraculous act that he could see, but just needed to speak the words and his servant would be healed, the Lord declared his amazement by saying, “I have not found such faith in all of Israel”. That kind of belief that takes God at his word, simply didn’t exist in the Jews. The Gideon Complex had distorted the entire basis of faith in that group of people. Nevertheless, by God’s great mercy, he was still leading a few Jews through that disability and into a living faith that casts off any dependence upon what can be humanly measured, controlled, or evaluated.

The early church struggled often with the distortions of Judaism that tried to turn Christians back toward keeping various aspects of the Old Covenant Law along with their profession of faith in Christ. But these Jews were still infected with the Gideon Complex, and by pushing their traditions rather than the word of God, they infected entire churches, like those believers in Corinth who were “demanding proof that Christ is speaking” through the Apostle Paul. It didn’t matter that Paul had actually done many miracles in their presence, they demanded manifestations that they could evaluate–things that God will never allow to satisfy our belief, because that can only ever come through taking God at his word and evaluating what is preached according to how it fits within the revealed word of Scripture.

In our day, Penticostal Christians, among others, appear to suffer from this same social affliction. They insist on manifestations of the Holy Spirit, before they will believe that they or anyone else is born again. As a group they demand proof that they can witness. The idea that God would baptize someone with the Spirit, but not provide something miraculous, is unacceptable, just like the Jews. Socially, they struggle with the Gideon Complex.

Catholics depend on this same disorder when identifying “saints” to elevate posthumously. Such pious people need to have proved their sainthood status by performing at least two miracles during their life. Transformation of character by the Spirit, which is the biblical evidence of the internal presence of God, is not considered sufficient, because it cannot be humanly measured, identified, or controlled.

The Sadducee (Jewish) belief that great wealth is proof of God’s blessing on a person, continues today in those Christians who believe God is pleased with them because they have large and successful ministries, material prosperity, or long and healthy lives on this earth. Many tithe 10% because they believe it will ensure great returns on their investment, but they don’t realize that they are infected with the Gideon Complex.

Individuals also are just as susceptible and should take warning. Any believer can base their faith upon what they can see, or on getting blessings they can enjoy, or on receiving proof of what they ask for in prayer. God does provide confirmation and encouragement that we can witness, at times, but that should never become the basis for our faith. In fact, we are called upon to endure to the end, without receiving now.

Such immaturity is understandable in a young one, but as we grow spiritually, it is no longer cute—it becomes an infection that sickens genuine faith. As such, even when we are granted the ability to see dramatic proof, it will not assure our faith, because it is grounded on our observation rather than on accepting what God has declared.

“Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.”

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Lu 16:31)

The greatest miracle of all is Immanuel–the manifestation of God with us. Jesus came to reveal the Father by demonstrating the most extraordinary miracle ever–the eternal Son of God entering our world through a virgin woman and showing us perfectly and completely all that could be known about God through our human experience. Witnessing the greatest miracle ever still cannot cause faith:

“But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.” (Jn 6:36)

God will not allow miracles to replace Jesus’ words as the basis for our faith. Not even the amazing proof of the dead rising–like Lazarus and like Jesus himself–will be accepted in the place of taking God at his word. What is preached by God, regardless of whom through which it is shared to us, is the only justifiable basis for faith.

“There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Faith is intended to be placed in Jesus upon the basis of what God has revealed through Scripture. It is a matter of trusting that those words, as he declares, can never disappear or change. Faith that endures to salvation is that which is grounded upon accepting what God has promised in Christ, without demanding any personal proof, other than the recorded confirmations that Scripture declares and remains trustworthy.

“Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers” (1 Cor 14:22)

Manifestations of God, like tongues, are not designed to be the basis of faith for believers; rather, they are given to confront unbelievers. Those who switch this around and try to teach that such dramatic activity is proof of being born in the Spirit, are distorting the word of God, not believing it.

For believers, God provides something different:

“…prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.” (v.22)

It is the prophesying of the word of God—here meaning preaching what God wants professed (not dramatic prediction of some future event)—which provides the basis for Christian faith. This is why the writer states: “I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

Perhaps those five intelligent words, upon which we ought to base our faith and believe with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength are:

“Know The Lord Jesus Christ”.

Posted in Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Living Our Theology Without Hypocrisy, 3/3

When it comes to putting our faith in what God has revealed into the motion of our lives, theology can seem to many to be a theoretical nuisance. As one minister put it, “kids need encouragement, not theology”.

That view is dangerous. Theology is the core of how we mentally relate to what God declares. It is the structure of how we explain what we believe. Without it, we are left adrift at sea without any way to explain or understand biblical truth on subjects addressed in different ways and times throughout Scripture.

It is a well known fact of psychology that humans act consciously according to their beliefs. We don’t always understand our own web of crisscrossing beliefs, but they are consistently the reason why we choose what we do. The same is true of our beliefs regarding God and his divine set of expectations on those who profess faith in him. We will act according to what we actually believe, which is not always consistent with what we say we believe.

We can claim to be a follower of Jesus, and we can be absolutely convinced that we belong to him, but if we are living inconsistent with how a follower is said to live, then we are at risk of hypocrisy and self-deception. This is why a biblical view of theology is so important. The better we understand what we ought to believe, the more likely we will be able to adjust our actions in accordance with the revealed will of God.

The existence of general theological truth is not at issue here. Truth remains true, even if we don’t understand it. It is how we define what we think we understand that is important at this juncture, so that we can bring together what we think we believe with what God says we ought to actually do as a believer.

This presents an enormous challenge. There are many theological truths stated in Scripture that appear to conflict with other passages, and that seem to allow for a do-whatever-you-want, justify-whatever-you-like, kind of life. How is a faithful Christian to approach trying to apply their theological beliefs in a manner consistent with what the Bible indicates on how to rightly apply each revelation to each circumstance, relationship, conflict, or opportunity?

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.” (Pro 26:4)

“Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” (Pro 26:5)

So which is it? Do you answer a fool or not? It sounds like you will be damned-if you-do and damned-if-you-don’t. Consider the sampling below:

“Do not judge, lest you be judged.”

“Are you not to judge those inside the church?” and “A righteous man judges all things”.


“Forgive your brother as you have been forgiven” and “Bear with those weaker in the faith”

“You must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is [living in sin]”


“Do not commit murder.”

“You must be the first to throw a stone” [and kill your own rebellious child]


“You are saved by grace”

“You have fallen away from grace”


“He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

“Judge for yourselves, whether it is right in God’s sight, to obey you rather than God.”


“Turn the other check”

“Turn them over to Satan”


“You are not under law”

“We uphold the law”


“Do not rejoice at the destruction of the wicked”

“The saints will dance in the blood of the wicked”


“No one who is born of God will continue to sin” and “anyone who does not love remains in death.”

“But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense.”


“Whatever you ask for in my name, will be given to you”

“Do not think that you will receive what you ask for, for you ask with wrong motives”


“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel”.

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers…they must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach”.


“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.”

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”


“He who does not provide for his immediate family has denied the faith”

“the pagans chase after all these things” and “Do not store up wealth on this earth”.

How is a Christian expected to know when to do what one passage says, and when to apply a different instruction on the same issue?

This is where the rubber meets the road. This is the part where many will attempt to make their best effort, but blow the whole thing. Many will try to pick-and-choose those passages that promote approaches that they prefer, and avoid those difficult passages. Many will cling to key statements that seem like a guarantee of eternity, but do so in rejection of other passages that reveal warnings they refuse to acknowledge. Entire groups will form around selective theology, rather than bow humbly to the entire revelation of Jesus’ gospel.

It not only is difficult, it is impossible to rightly apply Scripture. Humans are completely incapable of doing the will of God on their own. Jesus spoke in parables, and the Bible has been “rightly divided” in how it was written, so that natural study or sincere application will always fail and produce distorted beliefs. Theology cannot be applied without hypocrisy, unless a person is born again and endures in that Spirit-led life.

A Christian who has professed Christ, and who has been baptized, and perhaps even has outward manifestations of the Spirit, still cannot rightly live out theological truth, unless they submit and follow the lead of the Holy Spirit at every turn.

There is a classic revelation about the application of prayer through King David, when he was still running and trying to hide from King Saul. At one point he cries out to God, asking if he should enter a city and hide there. God answers yes. Then Saul discovers where David is and gathers his army to go after him. David again asks God if he should stay there or leave. It is a very understandable request. David was wrestling with the fact that God had told him to go there, so perhaps he should exercise faith and wait. However, what God declares doesn’t always apply under every circumstance, so it might be worth checking in again. The surprising thing is that God answers a second time and tells David to immediately get out of the city and hide, which of course, David gratefully does.

Scripture reveals to believers that there is a time and place for everything. This is not only a reference to natural things like a time for life and a time for death, a time for rising and a time for falling, a time for light and a time for dark, but it also is a theology about following the directions of God. We are not given the right to follow or not, but how we apply our following can change. In David’s case, there was a time to hide in the city by God’s own direction, and there was a time to flee from the city, again at God’s word.

So it is with Christians. In order to know when to rightly apply instructions that speak of the same issue, but that appear to give very different directions, a believer must get that wisdom from God. This does not mean that by following one instruction, we are in defiance on some other instruction, even though it might look that way to others. The important thing is to strive to apply the details as carefully and as specifically as we can to our immediate circumstance, within the boundaries that God allows, with a heart that demonstrates through our choice that we would rather honor God than do what is natural.

The theology within Scripture that might apply to a Christian always states what is true, but it never presents it with the how, when, why, names, or any other specific details of application to a specific person. Those details and boundaries have to be put together from other passages and by the inspiration of the Spirit of God.

A professor of Christian psychology challenged his students that they were hypocritical if they were “pro life” and also in favor of “capital punishment” (both phrases that reflect political viewpoints and not specifically Christian ones). In his view, a person could not be in support of life and death. To the student who shared this with me, I asked, “what about God; is he a hypocrite because he gives life and takes it away?” Human reason is not a very reliable basis for defining truth or in figuring out how to rightly apply theology in our lives.

Another revealing guidepost can be found in the underlying reasons for what caused the painful separation between Paul and Barnabas. Both had been specifically called by God into evangelical ministry and were sent out together to apply their calling. However, during the first trip, the young assistant John Mark turned-tail and ran back home. When it came time to consider a second mission trip, Paul refused to take Mark, and Barnabas insisted on it, contributing to a rift in their ability to continue in ministry together. Both were likely right.

For Barnabas, he likely was trying to apply the passages that taught on bearing with those who are weaker in their faith, who struggle, but not to the point of denying Jesus. He wanted to give Mark a second chance. For Paul, he likely was recalling Jesus’ own words that those who put their hands to the plow and then look back are no longer fit for the kingdom, and so Mark should not be accepted back into the field of ministry.

We find support for this dual solution in that both Barnabas and Paul continue forward with their joint plan to revisit those who had come to faith during their first mission trip. Barnabas takes Mark directly back to Cyprus, where the young man had deserted them, like the coach who helps his timid apprentice to get back on the horse that had bucked him off. Paul, goes the other way, and begins going back through Syria, in a reverse direction. It is reasonable to assume that they all meet again somewhere in the middle, to demonstrate their willingness to endure and to reconcile in relationship with each other.

In reality, God likely intended for both initial responses, so that Mark could be granted grace along with a warning, which as Scripture indicates, had its wonderful effect, because Mark shows back up later on as someone that Paul found “very helpful to my ministry”. What a sobering strong hand. What amazing grace. What a combination of upholding biblical instructions that saved a young one!

We are often given room to apply different instructions that can be found in Scripture, but what really matters is not whether we pick the right one (which assumes that the other biblical instruction is wrong), but more likely, whether we submit our motives and desires to implement what we sense would most honor and fit the will of God. We have all been given different gifts and placed differently in the Church body, and that means that the implementation of theology will often look different, but still be consistent with the overall revealed truth within Scripture.

When combined, the pattern should always reveal a consistent upholding of biblical theology, and a faithfulness to apply those difficult commands eventually, even if we are allowed to try the others first. Like the parable of the orchard farmer, “Lord, can I give it another year and water and fertilize it?  if it produces fruit then, great, if not, then let’s cut it down.”

We are given some freedom to apply the instructions of God in ways that are often different from other Christians around us. Most of the New Covenant is presented as a territory with boundaries within which we are expected to operate, rather than a specific code of laws by which we step from one to the next. Within those boundaries, however, we do have specific expectations and we are called to submit our wills to his directions.

Those who think they can pick the frosting off the top and not eat the carrots in the cake, will find their hands slapped. We might be given the grace to start with the frosting, but a faithful Christian will always apply the full set of instructions as led by the Spirit. We will not leave the hard parts to others, like those who say, “just you wait ‘til your father comes home”.

You may consider yourself an encourager, but do not be deceived into thinking that you can escape contending for the faith, or confronting a brother living in sin, or eventually “treating them like you would a tax collector or prostitute”. for others, you may lament like the prophet Jeremiah in being used to confront other believers in their ignorance and apostasy, but don’t lose touch with Jeremiah’s heart that still longed for the consolation of his people. You might prefer to offer forgiveness and grace, but do not cross the line and give what is holy to the dogs.

Should you pray for everyone? The Bible commands that we pray for civil authorities and even our enemies, but what do you do with the passages that say “do not pray for this people, for I will not answer”? I’d suggest seeking more specific council and not jump to conclusions or preferences, thinking we can do whatever we think best, like Moses who struck the rock to produce water, when God has shifted his earlier instruction and said to speak to the rock.

When should you cry out, when unjustly persecuted: “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” And what if the evidence is that they do know what they are doing, like those who have known Jesus and tasted of the heavenly gift but have fallen away? Are you going to ask God to forgive someone that Scripture declares will never be forgiven by God? As Scripture asks, “Are you greater than God?” and “Did the word of God originate with you?”

If the church operates as it should, we will all have tendencies and gifted preferences in expressing the theological truths revealed by God, but in so doing we must seek to uphold the arms of others around us who are commissioned to the same mission, but just with a little different concentration in implementing the will of God. We are in this thing together, so we need to ensure that the full will of God is being accomplished and supported through his body, and avoid the natural distortion of only doing what feels good.

Theology must be received in faith, attributed rightly to specific circumstances and people, and implemented within the freedom and boundaries established by God in a manner that is submissive to the leading of the Spirit and consistent with the gifts distributed to each, as defined by the theology of Scripture.

Cherish theology, particularly that which is stated within Scripture. Devote yourself to understanding it, and to rightly sharing it within the guidelines of Scripture that govern the appropriate circumstances and timing that will apply the specific instructions for that person or moment to fit within the will of the Lord. Then it will be the Spirit speaking in you and through you, rather than an empty expression of your own ideas, training, and natural cravings.

Show yourself approved by carefully handling the word of truth!

Posted in Approaching Scripture, Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

When Theology gets to Plowing—the difference between Receiving and Applying, 2/3

Christians are told that Jesus is a stumbling stone, that all humanity will either fall upon in faith or be crushed under in wrath. This theological statement in Scripture is hard to receive—no one wants to lose their footing and face plant, but it is a promise that will apply to everyone, like it or not. The prophecy given to Mary, the mother of Jesus, was “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There are many statements in Scripture that appear to directly conflict with other passages, “which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” In this article, we will consider the difference between accepting the theological truths revealed in Scripture and thereafter attempting to rightly apply them.

Consider the difficulty in receiving these two theological statements:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21)

Both speak of the assurance of salvation. The first appears to suggest that salvation is assured to anyone who simply calls out to Jesus in faith as their Lord. The second makes it horrifically clear that the first is not all there is to the promise, and that many will think they are saved because of their profession, but Jesus won’t accept that claim. So how is a believer to trust the word of God? How can we rightly receive biblical theology?

Within Scripture, theology must be considered in two different ways. The first is that biblically-stated theology is the same thing as eternal truth. It is a statement of reality that is absolutely right in how it represents God. It never changes and will forever be true. It is also a general, overall statement that never is presented in terms of specific application.

But theology is not just some contract with a fancy stamp of authenticity that we receive and file in a safe place. It must be applied. God demands that his truth be lived out. It is only those who hear and “put these words into practice” who are said to be like those who establish themselves on a rock that will withstand the storms of life. It is to those believers who “hold to my teachings” whom Jesus identifies as “truly my disciples”—all others are fake Christians. As such, theology must also be considered in terms of specific application.

This means that biblically recorded theology must be approached in two ways: in how we receive or accept it, and also in how we apply or attribute it to our specific circumstances. In this distinction we are informed that theological statements are not the same as application statements. The first are overall, general truths that always represent the will and revelation of God, and that speak of what we are to believe. The second are specific commands and expectations at applying those beliefs in the details of our life.

In the above verses, both speak about salvation, but they are not referencing the same details of theology. The first, which actually was recorded as Scripture much later, is a statement of theological truth that is sustained by both passages. Believers are expected to receive the truth that anyone who confesses acceptance of Jesus in faith will be saved. It is a general statement of theological truth that salvation will be granted to those who accept Jesus. It is set in contrast to the beliefs held by many that such salvation must be earned by efforts at keeping the Old Covenant Law. This verse is declaring that salvation comes to a person by receiving Jesus, not by what we do. That theology is a statement about what we are to accept, what we should believe even though we can’t scientifically prove it. It is an overall truth that is not presented with names, circumstances, or details about how to rightly apply it.

The second passage, which Jesus declared about how he will view those who make such a claim of faith in him as Lord, is revealing something different about salvation. It too is a theological interpretation that reveals that some, but not all, will enter the Kingdom who claim that Jesus is their Lord. In other words, both passages uphold this same truth. However, Jesus is not talking about how believers accept the promise, like Paul was addressing, but rather that those who make such a profession must also apply it to themselves rightly. Jesus is speaking about the application part, or more specifically the mis-application of the truth about accepting Jesus as Lord.

Paul confirms this same detailed caution about specific application earlier in the same letter when he says: “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation…For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die”. In other letters, he warns Christian believers who are not rightly living out their faith, “that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom”. Both passages are in complete theological agreement. The specific context of theology, that Jesus was teaching, is that how we specifically apply truth can impact whether God will allow that truth to continue to fit for that person, group, or circumstance.

The above theological truth–that those who profess faith in Jesus as Lord will be saved–always remains true; however, the persons to whom it rightly will apply is subjective, at least in our human ability to define. The truth is always objective and absolute; the application, however, is not automatic for every person who might like it to apply to them. Understanding this distinction is huge in being able to rightly grasp Scripture, and not fall into the trap of false teachers and false believers who distort the word of God toward their own reasoning and personal preferences.

The Pharisees didn’t understand this difference, which resulted in their arrogant belief that since they were Abraham’s descendants, they were automatically guaranteed to be saved because of the promise given to Abraham. To this they were confronted with the shocking revelation, that the promise was true, the theology was absolutely reliable and unchangeable, but that God could raise up rocks to fulfill that truth, and they would find themselves rejected, if they continued to refuse to submit to the words of Christ. The theology was true; the application was subjective and selective to whom it actually applied.

With this distinction in mind, it should be recognized that the truth never changes. It remains true that salvation comes to a person, not by personal effort, but rather by receiving Jesus as Lord. What can change, is that this truth doesn’t apply universally, like some kind of magical phrase, to every individual who announces, “I accept Jesus as Lord”. Truth is always unconditional. Application of truth always has conditions!

This truth is rejected by those false teachers who say that grace is unconditional. They are not being careful with God’s revealed word. It is correct that truth is unconditional. It is deceptive to say that this truth applies unconditionally to anyone who thinks and says they want it. The theology about grace must be considered in both its statement of general truth, as well as within the God-defined boundaries in how to rightly apply it. Those who say they want it, but who don’t live in a matter that fits, will find that God will refuse their profession as Christians:

“They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” (Tit 1:16)

This distinction between a theological statement of truth given in Scripture, and its connected boundaries on how to rightly apply it, can be seen in the following two passages. The first declares a general truth without applying it to any specific person, and is expected to be accepted in faith as always true. The second is recorded as a biblical measurement on how to rightly determine if this promise actually applies to a person who desires it, and is expected to be accepted personally in faith upon the partial evidence of a person’s expressions of godly love:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (Jn 5:24)

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” (1 Jn 3:14)

When the Bible declares a general, overall truth, believers are expected to receive it in faith. They are theological statements that are intended to be received like a little child, without question or doubt. They are true, absolute, always correct, never mixed with human invention or error.

The following examples demonstrate biblical statements of theology that Christians are expected to accept and believe:

“You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“There is no other name under heaven by which men must be saved.”

“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth: and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live”.

“if you confess with your mouth, and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved”

“It is by grace that you are saved, not by works, so no one can boast”

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.”

“God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.”

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

When the Bible declares a truth about how to rightly apply our faith, believers are expected to submit and obey, or find that their claim of faith can shipwreck, their crown be taken, their ability to repent be rejected, their name be erased from the Book of Life, their candlestick removed from around Christ, their identity as a virgin of the Lord be rejected at the heavenly gates, their talent be taken and given to another, their divine seed be choked out by weeds, their call be dismissed as not chosen, their leaving show that they never belonged to us, that false teachers will arise even from your own number…. A student of Scripture should be able to recognize that these warning phrases come directly from the mouth of God to those who claim to be Christian.

What we do never changes the truth; however, it very much can impact whether that truth rightly applies specifically to us or to a specific event, decision, relationship conflict, or moment in time. Remember, the Bible teaches that truth is never conditional, but how it might apply to a specific person or situation very often remains conditional to how we implement it, as compared to the will of God.

Notice all the conditional prepositions:

“unless you take up your cross daily, you cannot be my disciple.”

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”

“Now that you know these things, blessed are you if you do them”

“Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

“he who tries to save his life, will find in the end that he has lost it.”

“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

“They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says…If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…those who accepted his message were baptized”.

“what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.”

“If we disown him, he will also disown us.”

“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.”

“Unless you forgive your brother from your heart, you will not be forgiven.”

“You [Christians] who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

The theology, revealed by God, is that even to a righteous person that God promises salvation, if in the end they turn toward wickedness, God announces that they will not be given life (Eze 33:13). The truth never changes; how it specifically applies to a person can change by how we respond in faithful obedience or by turning back to the vomit of our sinful desires.

The “license for immorality” is prophesied to be taught by false teachers, who want their followers to think that they are individually guaranteed salvation, even while continuing to live immoral lives. They want people to think that general truths revealed and promised in Scripture certainly apply to anyone who follows their ideas, and that there is no possible way to lose out. They are told that they have a license, a guarantee, an assurance of salvation that defies and dismisses all the warnings in Scripture that believers are expected to be careful in how they apply their theology.

In terms of the assurance of our personal salvation, God alone knows those whom he has given to Jesus. For our part, we are expected to approach our salvation through faith, and submit ourselves to striving to rightly follow his every word, knowing that we still have the freedom–as the Bible words it–to fall away and never be able to come back. Many are unwilling to trust in the love of Jesus for their salvation, and prefer to claim assurances that guarantee that they personally can never fail–just like those Pharisee’s who blindly assured themselves of their eternal destiny as “children of Abraham”.

No one can come to God unless he calls them to faith in Jesus. Those who begin to respond to this call are granted the right to put their hands to the plow for his kingdom. It is an incredible honor and act of grace that such undeserving whelps be granted such glorious privilege. However, we are warned, do not be like Lot’s wife—never look back.

Those believers who approach theology with the required “fear of the Lord” will be granted the grace to not only understand the gospel truth, but also to rightly apply it to themselves, their circumstances, and their assessments of those around them.

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely, because if you do, you will save not only yourself, but also your hearers.” (1 Tim 4:15-16)

The above noted distinctions of receiving and applying theology emphasize belief, more than the process of actual implementation. In other words, the idea of application considered above is more specifically a reference to attribution. To attribute truth is to connect the dots between a general statement and a specific person or circumstance. It is the front end of the path of application. It is a way of asking, does this general truth apply to me? When it comes to the actual implementation, such application becomes a measurement of process, not just a reference to fit.

That is where we are heading next, to try and clear the mine-field that threatens all who travel between believing theology and living Christ-like.

Posted in Approaching Scripture, Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Theological Idolatry–Worshiping what we believe, 1/3

Beware of sacrosanct theology—that perfect, unchanging, holy definition of what can be known about God and his plan—it doesn’t exist. For many, their theology has become an idol that is worshiped as a replacement of what God has declared. The idea of the infallibility of church doctrine, ministerial decisions, or historical church councils are all misplaced belief in religious traditions. Per the voice of God:

“’You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’ And he said to them: ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!’” (Mk 7:8-9)

Jesus confronts all religious leaders who allow human defined doctrine to override reliance upon the actual words recorded in the Bible. Theological tradition and denominational doctrines can become idolatry. It is not only possible, but actually very common, for Christians to worship what they believe ahead of whom they ought to believe in. Knowing Jesus is far more important than being skilled at explaining him. The former requires submission and faith; the latter allows for independent control and manipulation of explanations that favor what we desire.

Theology, other than the specific wording of Scripture, is not the same thing as Truth. Theology is a human expression of divine revelation. The revelation is always trustworthy, but the theology, like the human believer, should always be presented with the humble acknowledgement that it is in a constant state of maturing and may not fully reflect the truth at any given point in time.

Again, there needs to be a distinction made between theology that is directly stated in Scripture, and that which is derived from Scripture through the words of men. They both are important, but only the first is absolutely trustworthy; the latter should always be held cautiously, used carefully, and continually allowed to be questioned and re-measured to what Scripture actually says. Theology stated in Scripture is always true and timeless, such that theological statements declared in the Old Testament are just as valid and reliable as those stated under the New Covenant. Such theology, like truth, never changes.

In the following example, Jesus gives us a theological statement that is not just correct, it is specifically a statement of divine truth as well. The declaration is given as a biblical statement of theological truth, but subsequent religious efforts at adding definition to what it means to be born again, which extend detail beyond what the text actually states, would become human-impacted theology, and should be allowed to continually be re-measured to what Scripture actually records:

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (Jn 3:3)

Theology that is derived from Scripture and worded by religious men and church councils is very necessary and often helpful, but should never be taken or maintained over time with the same degree of trust that is reserved for theological statements directly preserved in the Bible. Such theology–like views on the Trinity, life-after-death, heaven and hell–can point to passages of support in Scripture, or be formed from commands of application that appear to reveal further fundamental truths beyond just that specific focus, but they should never be taken as inspired-without-error like those words given through the writers of Scripture. Both involve human writers and speakers, but the first is the only group that God declares is entirely his own breath and “will never disappear”.

Our human tendency to distort everything we touch is so pervasive, that it is worth noting that even direct biblical statements that are simply quoted verbatim out of holy writ, can still be mis-applied, mis-defined, and mis-used for personal gain. The theological statements themselves remain true, but the context in which many try to use them, and the human agendas that are mixed in with those declarations, and the defined meanings that ministers use to explain those statements, often distort the truth contained therein. With this understanding, a wise student of Scripture will bring every thought captive to Christ, even direct quotes from the mouth of God, so that they can be purified and used according to the holy and divine will of God, and not distorted into “no gospel at all”. This is how Jesus confronted the Devil who tried to quote Scripture to deceive the Lord into sin.

Human language is a vessel which can contain truth, but the word of truth is spirit, which is why no amount of education can discover truth without dependence upon the Spirit of God. So when Jesus identified his words as truth and spirit and life, he was not speaking of the Aramaic language through which he spoke; he was speaking of the meaning hidden within those words, which can be conveyed without error even when translated from one human language into another. In the same way, the idea of “the original Greek” used to write the New Testament words of Scripture are themselves a translation as well. All quotes of Jesus are Greek translations from the local Aramaic language that Jesus used, and also the Greek was a human language that was used as a vessel to contain and convey spiritual words of truth breathed by God. Again, we need to be careful how we depend on our human words, human definitions, and human traditions in claiming to speak theological truth.

For many churches and Christians, their fundamentals of theology are taught as the bedrock of belief, and cannot be questioned or viewed with doubt. It is lost on many that those fundamentals are all human inventions, though they claim to be grounded on scriptural passages. The noble character of the Bereans is rare—to search the Scriptures daily to see of those theological statements are true. In practice, many assume that if their church has determined the theology is accurate, or the individual members are satisfied with their own brief study, then the theology becomes sacrosanct—holy and unchangeable and unquestioned, as if it was the breath of God that could never be distorted by a human touch.

Those who don’t embrace the theology this absolutely are often pushed out of those churches. It is the primary reason for the unbiblical practice of congregational membership, and away from dependence upon membership in Christ. It puts pressure on attendees to accept what that leadership defines in contrast to all other churches in the area that claim belief in the same Lord. The Bible, and its specific wording, is rarely the primary basis for accepting someone’s profession of faith in Christ.

Sacrosanct truth exists; sacrosanct theology (other than the uninterpreted wording of Scripture itself) does not. Humans need theology to describe and formalize the revelation of truth into doctrines that can be taught and used to measure right from wrong, but such theology must never be viewed as an acceptable replacement of truth. It is truth we are to maintain, believe, and promote, not our wording of that truth that we have found useful.

Of itself, theology is not something bad—in fact, God requires that we invest ourselves in teaching what we can understand about him, and that means that we are expected to form theological statements. Just as each believer is a fallible “temple of the Holy Spirit”, so our theological wordings are also fallible containers of truth. Theology is very important and necessary, but it has a place and purpose that should not be allowed to replace the truth of God. It is only a tool for aiding the teacher and believer in understanding and accepting the revealed words of God.

God reveals truth; when we begin to comprehend that revelation, we identify that truth by formalized statements that become the basis of theology. In this way, theology is intended to be a record of what God has revealed. This difference between truth and theology is why it is necessary for humans to continually humble their ideas and traditional explanations to what God actually reveals, because theology can only reflect truth—it never replaces it. Theology can miss details and get some things incorrectly defined. Truth never changes.

Theology, as a structured study of God, is presented in language to reveal what should be accepted by humans regarding God and his word. The only way we are capable of recognizing truth is through revelation. Humans are incapable of identifying any truth of God by natural effort. We are entirely dependent upon what God reveals and has preserved through his holy word. In this way, truth is never a by-product of scientific observation or of human reason. It is always something we receive from God as he chooses to make it known.

Even the first apostles struggled with this distinction. You may recall the vision of Peter, about eating unclean meat in the sheet let down from heaven, to which he replied, “not so Lord, I have never eaten unclean animals”. As his own mind wrestled with what God appeared to be revealing, he eventually came to acknowledge the truth that God is not a prejudiced respecter-of-persons, and intends to call believers from all races. Peter’s own grasp of theology—thinking that God was focused on just saving the Jews—was confronted by the truth of God and had to be brought into submission to what the Lord revealed.

As a cautionary note here, there is a difference between the theological understanding of those early apostles, and their writing of theology that became accepted as Scripture. The first is a reference to what was developing and maturing personally in their minds, and the latter is a truth about what the Holy Spirit was specifically breathing through each of those writers as they were scribing the words being given to them. As Jesus taught, they were not to worry about what to say in defense of their faith when brought before authorities, “it will be given to you what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Holy Spirit speaking through you.”

Although the personality of each may well have been allowed to influence the style of writing, the truth itself that each word presents was specifically inspired by God for a purpose in establishing holy Scripture that was unique from all other inspiration in defining theology, “for all Scripture is God-breathed”. In other words, the theology presented in Scripture is not subject to the same cautions of likely error or incompleteness that all other forms of traditional theology are under.

For example, when Paul says that the two women who produced sons for Abraham “represent two covenants”, that theology cannot be found anywhere else in Scripture, and was an interpretation of theological meaning that could only be directly given by the Spirit of God as absolutely true and absent of all human opinion. This is why church doctrine must always submit to that originally taught doctrine and not be allowed to overshadow or replace the gospel that was “once for all given to the saints.” Theology that is directly recorded in Scripture is truth, and thus is generally spoken of as truth rather than by the label of theology; all other theology outside of Scripture (which is typically what is meant by statements-of-theology) can only reflect that truth, and must be received with the same humble caution in accepting how it is worded and what it suggests is meant by topical comparisons in Scripture.

It is the Lord Jesus Christ we are to worship, not our definitions, traditions, or history.

Next we will look at how the Bible presents the difference between receiving theology and attributing it specifically to a person or event. It is a set of stumbling stones that many who are casual with the word of God trip over.

Posted in Approaching Scripture, Christian Gospel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Human Puzzle

Humanity doesn’t come with a colored picture on the box cover.

Understanding how God describes our humanity is important to a right view of self as well as an accurate grasp of what we experience in this life. The Bible reveals several specific details about how God identifies different aspects of a human. This is what can be found within the pages of holy writ:

  1. Humans, unique in all creation, are made in the image of God. This speaks of both purpose and function. Our identity is defined in terms different from animals, angels, and everything else. We were created for an overall purpose to reflect the image of God. In addition to our purpose, it is also something that reveals something special about how we were designed to operate—how we function—by designing things with artistic expression as an example, expresses qualities that resemble those found in God and no where else.
  2. Humans have been granted life—a spot in history with an existence in time and space that expresses independence and self-recognition.
  3. Humans have a temporal body. Our biology is of the dust of the ground and is bound in a temporary structure and exists for a limited time.
  4. Humans have a spirit-of-man that is different from the spirit in animals. This is not biological or genetic, but a spirit that conveys all the aspects of humanity, like a mind, soul, life, and a connection to God. This spirit defines our humanity.
  5. Humans have a soul. Although Scripture appears to interchange soul and spirit at times, when speaking more generally of a human, it does give distinctions that help explain some of the difference. A soul is a non-material part of the spirit-of-man that seems to contain the specific individual record and uniqueness of each individual, whereas the spirit is common to all humanity. In this way, the soul is about the inherited identity and development of each specific person and the spirit is about being human. This soul defines our individuality.
  6. Humans have a mind. They can think, reason, communicate, and operate by independent choices. This too is an extension of the human spirit and not something bound simply to the biology of a brain.
  7. Humans are designed to need relationships. As individuals, people are capable of biological existence on their own, but can only operate fully as intended when bound as one in relationship with another human. This is what marriage is designed to provide—the intimate relationship that resolves the aloneness of a person which God announced was not good. It is also the foreshadow of completing unity intended for humanity in their relationship connection with their Creator.
  8. Humans are divided into two genders, male and female. All of humanity will represent one or the other sex. Handicaps and distortions to not change this original design of humanity being established in two representatives.
  9. Humans have desires. There is a part of us that has yet to be satisfied and which drives us toward fulfillment, relief, and satisfaction. We were created whole in our biology and able to exist for a season, but not complete to the overall plan and purpose of God who set this whole earthly life in motion. We were created to desire what God set out ahead of us, but did not yet place within humanity. These desires produce a condition—a measurement of our link to God. This condition is not a substance, like a body or a spirit, but rather a penchant, a leaning, a natural preference to perpetuate the same sin of independent self-will chosen by Adam and Eve. Our condition resulting from pursuit of our desires is more than just a status, because this tendency actually contributes to propelling us toward our own restless wants and away from God. We are not sin, but we all have a very real sinful condition that infects our humanity. In contrast, the condition of Christ, who had no sin, is that of righteousness—that is the measurement of his desire for and link to God.
  10. Humans all have a second life. Each person, without exception, will die once and then be raise back to life to face judgment. For some this will be the transition into eternal life with an upgraded body and healed condition, for others it will culminate in their second death.

These are the distinct aspects or parts to every human as revealed in Scripture. Inspired writers of Scripture speak of the above with different terms, analogies, or cultural references, but everything that can be addressed about humanity should fit into one of the above revealed aspects.

It is important to understand, that although the above distinctions can be made as a way to relate to our humanity, they cannot be separated from the person. All the above parts are integral to what it means to be human at this point. For example, individuals do not exist separate from their body, or absent of a spirit-of-man. Those teachings that suggest that a person’s body can die, but they remain alive, are teaching contrary to what the Bible says. From what has been revealed in Scripture, humans will never exist outside of a body, nor will they be alive between the death of their body, and the return of Christ to grant salvation and a new body to those who have, as he phrased it: “fallen asleep”.

We do not exist within the parts; rather, the parts are what describe the whole of the person, and each are necessary to the existence of the person: body, soul, mind and spirit, and the other revealed distinctions above that Scripture shows are universal to what it means to be human.

Some have taken exception to the translations that replace the biblical word flesh with the phrase human nature. This is unfortunate and comes from a misunderstanding of what Scripture reveals about humanity. It is true that the Bible does not use the phrase “human nature”, and so translations that maintain the word “flesh” are certainly more careful in their wording. However, that carefulness to the wording does not necessarily translate into better accuracy to what the writer meant, and it is the teaching of truth that we are expected to seek, not simply the preservation of language.

Those who teach that the flesh is bad, and who emphasize the inherent evilness of material things, and who suggest that God will destroy the evil body but save the good spirit, and who try to separate a human into two competing parts of flesh/spirit (as if we could exist in one and not the other), follow a heretical pattern that was common in paganism, like represented in Manachaism and Gnosticism. God created man in the flesh and announced that it was “very good”. Sin attacks the soul, not the skin. Humans need to be saved and healed in their entirety, not just in their body.

Our primary understanding of the meaning of the term flesh should come from how it is presented in Scripture and not from cultural norms or theological traditions. One of the foundational teachings on God’s meaning in this, comes from Jesus’ teaching of Nicodemus about being born again, when he declared that “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (Jn 3:5). The Lord is not referring to flesh in the limits of materialism or specifically to the biological vessel of our bodies–he is speaking about the entirety of the human being. In other words, his use of the term flesh includes body, mind, soul, and spirit, as an entire package.

The contrast here between flesh and spirit he defines as: “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” This demonstrates that his meaning of flesh is about source and basis and representation, not about biology or structure or form. By Jesus own words, flesh here means “of earth”, whereas spirit here means “of heaven”. This fits with the understanding of considering a persons’ nature–are they naturally of this earth or naturally of God, without reference to their physiology reality at that moment.

Humans have an earthly nature, but Jesus tells us that he is “not of this earth”. He is not suggesting that he is not physical or not fully human or not really existing in a fleshly body; rather, his origin, source, basis, and natural orientation comes from God and is not sourced from or dependent upon this created world. In this sense, Jesus came in the flesh, but was not of the flesh.

The Holy Spirit that inspires Scripture hasn’t changed his meaning when the Gospel writers record the words of Jesus, or when he inspires others to write Scripture. The context often shows that the term flesh means: that which is based in this life and reflects what is commonly and naturally limited to human desires.

The question being raised is whether we represent Adam, self, or even the god of this world Satan; or, whether we have been saved from that natural condition to now represent the Second Adam, the things of heaven, and the will of God. This is how the Bible uses the contrast between flesh and spirit to indicate the natural orientation, rather than to speak specifically of substances. Those who try to shift the biblical meaning of flesh to just the biological entity–like saying that it is only the body of flesh that dies, and people are eternal–distort the truth by promoting beliefs that have a long and pagan heritage.

When writers, like Paul, speak of not living according to the flesh, the context makes it evident that they are not speaking of human biology or of the epidermis skin layer. Rather, they are using the concept of the fleshly biology to instruct on the condition of humanity that powerfully inclines a person toward sin and away from God.

who put no confidence in the flesh–though I myself have reasons for such confidence…a Pharisee…persecuting the church…faultless.” and “their mind is on earthly things.” (Phi 3:3-6, 19)

Notice that Paul defines his own meaning of the term flesh with aspects that have nothing to do with physiology, but rather with things that attach to and put our focus toward this physical life, like status, position, choices, and efforts at doing good. John speaks of this distinction as the “love of this world”, which focuses on desires that we crave after, lusts of what we want, and bragging about the amazing things we can do:

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man [flesh], the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:15-16)

In this way the term flesh is used to provide the distinction between two competing foundations upon which a person lives—flesh or spirit. Neither flesh nor spirit here are speaking of the above aspects of humanity, rather the flesh is a reference to the basis of natural choices toward sin which we crave after to our own hurt, and spirit is a reference to the basis of godly desires enabled through the Holy Spirit which honor the will of God.

Notice how Paul defines the context and meaning of his own words:

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:3-5) [NIV ’84]

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” [NIV new]

The NIV changed its initial usage of “human nature” back to the more literal wording of “flesh” (in its most updated translation), but the context still supports both the original word and descriptive meaning. We are taught here that our cravings, desires, and thoughts propelled us toward gratifying what came naturally. The word here for “by nature”, which is translated this way in both of the above translations, comes from the Greek word: phusis. It means natural production, native disposition, and natural constitution or usage. It is the same base word for the phrase-word: man-kind.

The human “native disposition” since the fall in the Garden is to choose our own path in determining what is good and desirable—to default to our education, our abilities, our reasoning, our wisdom and knowledge, our preferences and desires—rather than to remain dependent upon God for such direction and satisfaction. Paul specifically tells us that this is our natural human craving which has resulted in our human condition of being “dead in transgressions” and “by nature deserving of wrath”.

This meaning is the reason Paul describes his own natural struggles as a faithful Christian in wanting what is right, but seemingly to be continually struggling with this pull toward selfishness:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature [flesh]. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Rom 7:15-20)

Sin is not a substance that is possessing Paul and making him do bad things. He is speaking about the common struggle that we all face in wanting to do what is right before God, but actually choosing sin at times. As a Christian, he belongs to Christ, so it is not the new person who is causing this, but rather the ongoing natural presence of this sinful condition that still infects Christians who have yet to be fully transformed this side of the return of Christ.

In the above text, Paul personifies sin—he describes it in an artistic manner that makes it sound like it is alive and human. Back in verse 5, he speaks about this internal struggle as being “controlled by the sinful nature” or flesh. Our biology does not force us to do anything. He is not speaking about our nervous system getting out of control. He defines this as “the sinful passions” that all people have. Those are our desires which propel us toward finding satisfaction in our own way. It is so real and so powerful, even overwhelming our own mind and will at times, that he speaks here of this passion to sin as if it were a real person, when in reality it is something very real inside of us that we remain responsible for.

He concludes this section by speaking about himself as both a mental slave to God’s law while simultaneously a fleshly slave to the rule of sin. The beauty of this whole discourse is that God is fully aware of this internal tension, and through faith in Christ we have a way through it: by constantly coming to him to be forgiven and cleansed, so that in spite of this internal struggle, we can be counted free from condemnation by God.

At least, that is the promised shift in how God will view such a person, if they increasingly live by the Spirit and not by continuing to sin according to the natural fleshly pattern.

“Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature [flesh], to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature [flesh], you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:12-14)

In other words, our natural condition remains dire and sinful, and also temporary, but our eternal condition that already applies to a faithful believer is grounded not upon our natural flesh condition but upon the righteousness of Christ through his Spirit. We are not separated from our fleshly condition; we are counted as righteous because of the blood-covering of Christ. Just like the blood on the doorposts for Israelites in Egypt protected them from the death angel who was sent to kill all firstborn humans and animals in that area, so long as they obeyed by painting their doorposts and also remained within their homes, so it foreshadows that Christians are also protected as we obediently “remain in Christ”.

And so, the most significant aspect to humanity is our created purpose to image God. That has been made possible through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross to remove this hateful condition and begin instilling within each believer the holy desire to do the will of God.

Those who seek first his kingdom rule and his condition of righteousness, rather than seeking their own ways, will, and natural desires, are promised to be granted increasing relief from this internal struggle and increasingly be fully satisfied beyond anything that could be experienced or even imagined through body, mind, soul, spirit, or this life.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Posted in Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Scripture Speaks of the Gospel

Have you ever wondered why the Bible seems to present the gospel through a blender?

Within Scripture, Jesus’ singular gospel is presented from several different angles.

At times, the gospel is addressed by considering the eternal plan and will of God that was determined from before the world began. This speaks of the original source and purpose that initiated and sustains the gospel. These passages do not put the focus on individuals, as many mistakenly think, but firmly upon God’s plan through Christ.

“And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:8-12)

At other times, the text is emphasizing who Jesus is. In these passages, the subject is about the nature of Christ and that he is the fullness of God to mankind. Here is where the gospel speaks of the deity and humanity of Christ, born of a virgin as a physical human and proven to be the Son of God by being raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit.

“the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:2-4)

Again, there are many passages of Scripture that speak of the gospel in terms of what Jesus accomplished, particularly centered upon the work completed on the Cross. This is about what Jesus has done. This is the core of what is referenced under the term justification. These are the words that define the New Covenant in the blood of Christ and celebrated through Communion.

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1 Cor 15:1-11)

A significant portion of the Bible teaches the gospel in terms that focus on how this good news applies to people. In these sections, the topic emphasizes how this gospel connects to believers. Most of these passages can be compiled under the subject heading of sanctification, where believers mature into the likeness of Christ, and where they do the works God has prepared for them to do, and where they endure in faith.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven”. (Col 1:21-23)

A lot of the New Testament teaches on the shift of the standard by which believers are expected to live. The focus is away from the definitions and practices commanded through the Mosaic Law and upon the life and words of Jesus as guided by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This gospel, though spoken about through the prophets of old, was first announced and initiated by Jesus, and as such cannot be an extension of previous covenants; rather, it is the reality and everything else just a former shadow of this new standard.

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom 7:6)

Scripture also teaches details about this gospel in terms of its culmination, rather than just its initiation, or ongoing development. These are the verses that celebrate the glorious return of Christ and the hope held out in resurrection to a new life, body, and purpose in the Kingdom of God. This is the glorification part of the promised salvation.

“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Rom 8:23-25)

Some of the Bible addresses the hard-to-receive truth that this gospel is not automatic, that it can be rejected, that it can be distorted and a believers faith shipwrecked. This is about those who begin well, but end poorly.

“Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.” (Lu 8:13)

Numerous statements in Scripture also speak of the gospel in ways that focus on the boundaries in defining what exactly is this gospel, and what is not acceptable as Jesus’ gospel. The foundation for defining this gospel is something that was established at the very beginning of the early church, and the Bible says that no one in future generations is allowed to alter that original teaching with their ideas of updated doctrines that shift what was first taught and once-for-all given to the church.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ…All who rely on observing the law are under a curse…You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (Gal 1:6-7; 3:10; 5:4-5)

The gospel is more than a message that can be packaged in a paragraph, it is a calling that must be lived. It is considered good news in what it promises to accomplish, but it can only be received as good for an individual when they respond to the call of God and demonstrate their own willingness to live according to the gospel.

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…who had believed in him, Jesus said, ‘if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will now the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (Jn 1:12; 8:31-32)

It should be noted, that the gospel is principally about the good news of salvation that God designed for those Christians who accept Jesus through faith in this life, but the overall plan of God referenced in Scripture, actually extends beyond the boundaries defined in this gospel. Significant as the gospel is, it still is just a subset of the redemptive plan of God. This mystery applies to those passages that speak of Christ as savior of all men, not just believers. This is not part of the gospel, but it is a truth that extends the plan of God further than can be grasped through the gospel. This does not mean that everyone will be saved, or that none will be destroyed forever in Hell, but rather that what God is currently focused on in the Church is only part of a greater plan of mercy that will extend beyond the confines of just those who are confirmed in Christ today. Nevertheless, it is the gospel that Christians are expected to accept and promote, while understanding that there is even more planned by God that will somehow impact humanity.

“As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Rom 11:28-29)

To rightly understand this amazing gospel, and carefully divide the word of truth as one approved by God, a believer must approach Scripture with a recognition of these different angles by which the gospel has been revealed. Each passage must agree with the others in how we understand the meaning of the gospel, but they do not all speak of the entire package. In this way the truth of the gospel, even though recorded in plain sight, remains veiled and hidden from the educated and unfaithful. As a result, a discerning student of the Bible will put the puzzle pieces of the gospel together in a way that upholds the overall revelation, and not fall into the trap of thinking that one passage can be taken out of the overall context and used as a basis for defining a new understanding of the gospel. The gospel has many facets, but only one underlying foundation and meaning. There is only one gospel, spoken about from several different angles, which reveals the whole.

This is how to begin the approach to defining the gospel rightly. There are many, many distorted ideas roaming about in the Church that do not submit to the above distinctions in how God has packaged and recorded the evidence about what he means by the gospel of Jesus. Different people and denominations will tend to highlight passages that stand out to them, and form beliefs around those key passages, but which do not equally submit to the other revelations within Scripture. A believer of noble character will look to Scripture, not for justification for what they want to believe or were initially taught, but to see if such views are consistently in agreement with the entire revelation about the gospel.

Bible verses tend to reveal specific details that fit in a context and that address a part of the whole. It would be a mistake to use one verse, or a few similarly worded passages, to form a foundation through which all other passages must fit or be discarded. All of God’s words are equally holy, and we have not been given the right to cut-and-paste.

For example, when the Spirit declares that if a person confesses Jesus as Lord, then they will be saved, many incorrectly assume that this is a magical prescription by which a simply announcing “I believe in Jesus” will guarantee them salvation. This true declaration identifies the core and beginning of faith—openly confessing faith in Jesus—but it does not provide any guarantee of culmination if such a professing person continues to live in disobedience. To such distorted beliefs within the church, the Bible repeats several times, “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom”.

Another common mistake is to assume that the gospel is primarily about us. Passages can certainly be found that concentrate on applying the gospel to individuals and the benefits that can be expected, but that is just one part of the overall message. Such beliefs shift the focus away from where the gospel points believers to the supremacy of Christ, to the plan and will of the Father, and to upholding the holy name of God.

The sad prophecy is that in the end times in which we live, many professing Christians will abandon the faith and refuse to acknowledge the truth and so be saved. We are told that they will surround themselves with teachers, friends, fellow church members, and denominations that will agree with what they want to believe, but will not be careful to uphold the original gospel as once for all given to the saints. All will claim to be right, often engaging in powerful missions and ministries with their version of the gospel, and suggesting that the deceivers are somewhere else in other churches.

“I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Ju 1:3-4)

Hunger and thirst for what the Bible declares about the righteousness of Christ offered in the gospel. Fix your focus and beliefs on him and not on popular human definitions. Strive to rightly divide the word of truth by submitting to what it says, by looking for what the Spirit confirms, and by ensuring your views sustain complete agreement with every text that addresses some aspect about the gospel. Ask for the wisdom of discernment and then show your humility before God by repenting when he opens your eyes to his truth and your previous mis-representations of his gospel. Don’t be deceived: not one of us will be immune from this need, so prepare yourself for Godly sorrow that leads to repentance.

When the mote is out of your own eye, then you will see more clearly—for that moment, and until the next layer of maturing, which will likely require yet another humbling surgery of your mind’s eye—so  that you can help others to recognize the glorious gospel of Jesus. Transformation begins in the mind and in part is submitted to by refusing to conform to the ways and patterns common to humans, even within the Church. Come out and be separate.

There is no reason to be ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for all those who believe.

Posted in Approaching Scripture, Christian Gospel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hallmarks of a Ministerial Hack

hack. [very common]. 1. n. Originally, a quick job that produces what is needed, but not well.

The Christian Bible has a lot to say about false teachers and misleading prophets, from the snake in the Garden all the way to the False Prophet that represents the Beast Power spoken of in the book of Revelation. They are everywhere, but always disguised in religious garb—wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Paul: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” (1 Tim 4:1-2)

John: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” (1 Jn 4:1; 2:18)

Peter: “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies…many will follow their shameful way and bring the way of truth into disrepute.” (2 Pet 2:1-2)

Jude: “These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead.” (Jud 1:12)

Believers are warned to watch out for such distorted teachings and those through which they come. Some will heed this warning. Others will think their church and ministers are all right and that the problem is in other churches, to their own deception and rejection. Official ministries have been set up to finger the cults and deceptive teachers, but rarely do they include themselves in such review, though we all naturally distort everything we touch. So, how can anyone know what is right and what is not?

There are several key marks, that cannot be disguised, which help identify faithful ministers from false leaders, but the revelation is a two-way illumination. It is not enough to just see these marks. The observer must also be informed by the Spirit of God to be able to see them for what they are. Those whose consciences have been seared, cannot recognize these marks in themselves or in others—they have been divinely blinded into thinking they are just fine as they are.

The easy approach that most will choose—that broad path that leads to destruction—is to just claim that they are on the right side and refuse to allow any question or doubt to deter their belief in their own guarantees for salvation. Just say, “I accept and believe in Jesus”, and your ticket to eternity is punched. Entire theologies have been erected to formalize language that helps such people believe that they cannot lose out, that they are assured salvation, no matter what they do, no matter how disobedient they may continue to be, no matter that their specific name is never mentioned in Scripture as being guaranteed simply because they want it to be.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21)

A humble Christian will know of this and approach their own assessment and the observation of what is being taught by others with what the Bible says is required in order to be granted the wisdom of spiritual discernment. That key, that absolute necessity to be able to see truth from error, begins with the fear of the Lord.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Pro 1:7)

Perhaps the first mark of a ministerial hack—a false minister or a deceived believer—is a rejection of the need for expressing and maintaining a healthy and biblical fear of the Lord. God speaks against those who say they believe in him, but don’t show this quality, by saying, “should you not tremble at my word”, and as Jesus put it: do not fear man who can only kill the body, but God can destroy you in far greater detail, so fear him!

“…and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander…but these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand…and like beasts they too will perish.” (2 Pet 2:10-12)

Such misleading teachers have been scarred from all sensitivity. They project attitudes of superiority, often with strong conviction and lots of Bible quotes, but absent of any caution when representing the Living God.

All humans, including baptized believers in Christ, retain a sinful human condition (or nature) that is being transformed, but is not yet completed this side of Jesus’ return. That means that every one of us needs to acknowledge our inherent sinfulness, that is forgiven and covered by the blood of Christ, but is not yet removed and changed. In other words, we can still be like Peter’s dogs that return to their vomit.

Deceivers will reject such a possibility. That is one of their hallmarks. They will reject the belief of Paul that after serving in ministry, he could still be disqualified. They will teach ideas that dismiss the need for such fear of the Lord. They will change the meaning of fear to just “awe”, or “respect”, but ridicule any need for repentance or (as Jude worded it) having “qualms”.

The writer of Hebrews warns believers not to misunderstand the nature of God, just because the method of approach appears to be so much more gentle than that experienced by ancient Israel. Back in the day, those people were scared spit-less as God taught them specifically to fear him and be very careful to follow every detail of his words. For Christians, however, we come in “joyful assembly” and in so doing can easily mistake this change of approach as a change of God. Rather the text concludes

“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven…for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12: 18-29)

Teachings that dismiss or ignore promoting the continued need for expressing a fear of the Lord, are a hallmark of false ministers. Even the above text is often dismissed as not applying to Christians because it warns about fear of judgment for not listening to what God says and not obeying. The preferred idea is that Christians are guaranteed salvation, so no warnings should be listened to. If you hear such things, you are being shown an identifying mark—what you do about it will determine your own personal belief about the need for the fear of the Lord.

Perhaps the second, and most damning, mark of a ministerial hack involves teachings that shift the focus away from the supremacy and centrality of Christ: “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Pet 2:1). Or, as John worded it:

“but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist”. (1 Jn 4:3)

Acknowledging Christ is not accomplished by just referencing him, which many false teachers still do, but about promoting him as Sovereign Lord over everything, even over how we interpret Scripture. The common teaching about predestination–which is about individual names that have been identified by God before creation to be guaranteed salvation–is a classic example of this distortion away from Christ. In both Romans and Ephesians, the two letters that actually use the word predestination, they speak about the glorious plan of God that he established from the very beginning to bring everything under Jesus, for him, and through him. The entire idea of predestination is about God’s plan through Christ–it is not about individual names guaranteed salvation. The plan puts the focus on Christ and the purposed will of God, whereas the false teaching puts the focus on the individual.

“So that in everything, he might have the supremacy” (Col 1:18)

If you are hearing ideas that put the individual at the front, rather than sustaining Christ as the focus, then it is probably a false teaching, or is mixed with deception. The popular teaching to “come as you are”, should be “come accept who He is, rather than maintaining who you are”. Humans are not supposed to be the focus; Jesus is! If you are hearing teachings that put angels, aliens, politics, morality, social justice or anything else ahead of bringing every interpretation and practice to the centrality of Christ, then it is a huge flag and should probably be avoided.

Those who promote the belief that a believer must atone for their own sins committed after they have been baptized, turn the attention away from the completely sufficient sacrifice of Christ and onto the efforts of individuals. That is an example of a false teaching, and it can be spotted by measuring its focus.

Surprising as it might be to hear, there are entire denominations that shift the focus away from the primary supremacy of Christ and toward the Holy Spirit. That too is a false teaching, for though the Spirit certainly is worthy of our praise, our worship is supposed to be focused on the centrality of Jesus according to the will of the Father. God wants the glory to put Jesus front and center in everything. Those who think they have the Spirit, or even emphasize God the Father, but don’t keep their focus on the Son, “don’t have either” (1 Jn 2:23).

One of the most dominant deceptions that infected the early church in this way, involved turning believers away from focusing on Christ and toward observing the Old Covenant Law along with their profession of faith. Those who claim to be Christian and promote such ideas, the Bible declares, are “alienated from Christ”.

To those who mix that Law into Christian practice, the Holy Spirit has pronounced a double curse: “may they be eternally condemned”. Jesus is our legal standard now. It is by following his words, and by submitting to the Spirit of Christ, that we find guidance for our lives, not by returning to “weak and beggarly principles”.

Those who teach that Christians must still observe the Sabbath Day, practice circumcision, live by the 10 Commandments, avoid unclean meats, tithe a tenth of earnings, or any other command found in the Mosaic Law, which was not taught by Jesus or his first apostles upon believers, are shifting their focus away from Christ. This still happens all over within the church today, fulfilling the prophecy that “many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.”

Perhaps the third common mark of a ministerial hack is the replacement of active faith. It seems unthinkable that any teacher would dismiss the need for faith in a Christian, but what they often mean when speaking of faith is only part of what the Bible says.

Scripture uses the term faith to speak of both the claim of belief in Jesus as well as the expression of trust in what cannot be seen. Profession and expression are two different references about faith in Scripture, but certainly related. The former is what is being referred to when the Bible says that some have come to faith, abandoned the faith, or shipwrecked their faith—that is speaking about their profession rather than their expression. In other words, such people have accepted or turned away from Christianity (even though they may well still be attending church, preaching from the Bible, or thinking they are saved).

False teachers don’t tend to attack the profession of faith. That would be too obvious. Rather, it is this latter expression of faith that is often replaced. Their theologies will introduce heresies that secretly or subtly shift a believer away from needing to step forward with faith. Beliefs that promote guarantees of salvation upon a person’s profession of faith, rather than on the evidence of Christ, end up replacing an ongoing dependence of trusting in Jesus with doctrines of assurance.

Both Old and New Testament writers record that “the righteous will life by faith”, which is a revelation about expression, not profession. In other words, those that God considers righteous are not those who simply claim faith in Jesus, or who belong to the right church, or who have accepted the Lord by word and baptism; rather, those who are righteous will actually live and act out their faith by expressing what they believe through obedience and trust per the words of God. It is this living expression of faith that false teachers will undermine with ideas that salvation is guaranteed to those who simply profess faith.

Those who accept such teachings will claim their assurance guarantee based on their professed denominational-doctrine, rather than on the promise of Jesus for those who continue to hold to his teachings, which requires human participation. The former doesn’t need to express faith, because it has replaced it with a law of doctrine. The latter completely depends on Jesus following through for those who endure to the end by how they live, act, think, and mature.

The popular idea that if you obey, God will materially bless you, is an example of this distorted teaching. We are commanded to obey, but such obedience, does not earn or cause us to get what we desire. No one, not even the pious, is guaranteed while in this life to be healed, or to get wealthy, or to escape suffering. Those were promises under the Old Covenant, but Christians have a new covenant connection to God, and cause-and-effect produce very different outward results in a Christian than in an ancient Israelite. If you prefer what was offered to Israel, you cannot have what is offered through Christ, which is said to be much more glorious beyond comparison.

Expressing faith requires that a believer act in ways that demonstrate that they trust Jesus, which false teachers will denounce as “works of men”. The very thing the Bible commands—that without expressing faith, it is impossible to please God—has become something detestable to many professing Christians, because these deceptive teachers have repackaged the biblical requirement for living by our faith as if it is something dirty and wrong.

It is one of the main hallmarks of a ministerial hack to teach things that replace the need for expressing life-long faith in what has yet to be completed. “The righteous will live by their faith”, rather than just profess it, while claiming an iron-clad guarantee of assurance that no longer needs to trust humbly in Christ completing what he has promised to those who demonstrate that they love him.

Through the prophets, God made it painfully clear that even if he gave an individual a specific, personal, promised guarantee of eternal life as a righteous man, but then in the end, he didn’t maintain living with righteous faith, then God would reject that promise and “he will surely not live” (Eze 33:13). To this revealed truth, the text tells us how false ministers will respond, by saying: “The way of the Lord is not just”. But God says it is their ways and teachings that are false.

As noted earlier, the entire predestination concept is one of those twists that put the emphasis on doctrinal claims of individual guarantees and away from submitting to and trusting in the continued grace of God. Not only is the focus off, it replaces the need for expressing a faith that doesn’t have any other natural explanation or proof.

The individual name-guarantee has replaced the faith of promise. The references that God called Sampson, Jeremiah, and possibly Paul “from the womb”, is often ignored as being something unique, and rather taught as proof that God didn’t just identify them before birth for ministry, but rather that they, and thus every human, have been identified before birth for salvation. Of course, all those references speak about select ministry and not about pre-birth identification for guaranteed salvation, which is why Paul himself stated about running the race for the crown of salvation:

“No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor 9:27)

Faith is no longer needed if a person has a guaranteed contract. A promise to enter the stadium for the big game takes a degree of trust; whereas, when a person holds a ticket, they don’t need faith to be let in, since they are holding their guarantee. That is the problem with such teachings—they claim a profession of faith, without any continued dependence upon expressing faith.

Perhaps a fourth major hallmark of a ministerial hack is that they look and sound more like a Christian than Christ. Sounds weird, and that may be why it is not recognized as an identifying mark, but God has chosen the weak of the world to confound the mighty. Those weak, believe it or not, look and sound weak. It is those who sound so polished, educated, talented, amazing, and good that confuse the sheep in being able to recognize the true shepherd.

It is a lesson of sport fishing and hunting. Fashion the lure to look and move exactly like what the target fish wants to eat, and the fisherman will have a significantly better chance of hooking a big one. Tweet on the cow call or bird reed, with just the right inflection, and the target animal will come charging in to where the disguised hunter lies in wait. As the Proverb goes, “How useless to spread a net where every bird can see it!”

We are warned that even Satan goes about disguised as a good angel, and you can bet that he doesn’t do so with a disheveled costume. Undoubtedly, he looks, sounds, and acts perfectly convincing. That is one of the key marks. If it looks too good to be true, then don’t assume you will be skilled enough to see under the fur. That is the point. They say everything so well.

It is not by our skilled observation that we can tell the difference. It will only be possible to spot by the revelation of the Spirit, along with the by-product fruit of their teachings and life, which often takes time and repeated measurings to recognize what may not be manifested until the last moment, and long after we have become comfortably attached.

They will preach Jesus, but it will be “a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached”. Paul admitted that he was not an educated public speaker, like many of the other ministers that had risen to the top of the pile within the early church:

“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” (2 Cor 11:1-15)

Don’t expect the popular to be among the faithful—that would be rare indeed. Don’t expect the powerful or dominant over large and successful ministries to be among the weak that God has chosen—it is possible, but not likely. Don’t think that the charismatic and friendly are automatically trustworthy, for the abusive know that candy and a smile is a powerful drug. Jesus warned his little flock of followers not to follow the crowd, when the cry goes out, “here he is”, or “he is over there”.

If the minister and his teachings are comfortable (like it will always work out well for you); naturally preferable (like grandma is in heaven smiling down on you); full of stand-alone biblical references, passages, and quotes from God, that do not agree with the overall word of God (like when Satan quoted Scripture to try and get Jesus to follow him); create environments that resemble theme-parks, great family reunions, and active clubs for every age and desire (we have it all in this church); then be warned. God is not likely giving you something attractive to follow, rather he is warning you that Satan is offering you poisoned treats for the here-and-now.

True ministry will resemble less of the magnificence of the stones and gold of the Temple, and more of the shame and disgrace of the Cross. We must go out of the city walls and join Christ in his shame, taking up our cross daily, or we will not be accepted as belonging to him. While on this earth, our Lord had nothing physically that would attract us to him, and in like manner, so ministers will have little to naturally draw us to them or to their ministry.

What we ought to look for in ministry is faithfulness to the word of God, the gospel, as it was originally taught by those God identified as teachers of the foundation to Christianity. We desperately need to sustain the focus on Jesus in everything we think, belief, and do. We ought to look for those living with a fear of the Lord and an emphasis on enduring and expressing faith as a demonstration of our faith. Look for those who reflect the Cross more than tout the achievements of their ministry.

The hallmarks of a faithful Christian will be the evidence of a transformed nature away from the desires and preferences of this life and increasingly toward submitting to living by every word of Scripture. Their lives will reflect love, faith, and grace as they acknowledge truth whenever it shows itself. In turn, they will follow Scripture’s requirement to “contend for the faith once for all given to the saints”, by identifying what is in line with Christ and what is showing evidence of distortion away from the fullness of the gospel. Such believers will put a premium on what the original apostles taught, and subordinate subsequent doctrines invented by later leaders in the church.

Ultimately, the greatest hallmark of a Christian will be the display of Christ—the “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”—Not a different Jesus of human crafted theologies, but the biblically revealed Lord who delights to work through the marginal, rejected, obscure, weak, and naturally-challenged.

What do the marks of your life, beliefs, and associations indicate about your identity? Many will claim to know him, but by their actions, Scripture says, they will actually deny him—the very opposite of what they say about themselves and about those they supported (Tit:1:16). Our doctrines, church memberships, and our convictions do not save us. Only Jesus saves.

Do you prefer the hallmark channel, or the marks of suffering? It is a straight and narrow path, and few there be that find it.

Posted in Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Notorious Nephilim

Many like to spread the sordid tale of demonic spirits in the days of Noah that allegedly had sex with women and produced powerful demi-gods that caused God to bring the Flood on the earth.

Like Greek Mythology, the references to Nephilim cited in Scripture, are interpreted by sensationalists as evidence of an entirely new species of being.

The belief is that evil angels decided to have sex with women and produced super-babies that made God angry, so he caused the earth to flood and only saved Noah, his family and pairs of all animals. Men don’t have babies, so this entire myth is about women being taken over by invisible spirits and somehow impregnated. This was a common type of belief throughout history that women in pagan temples were capable of having intimate relations with the god of that religion and could produce extraordinary offspring. Such a pagan story was likely very popular as a cover-up for these women being temple prostitutes and the inevitable children that come from such immorality–tell everyone that their babies are god-babies, and now it is acceptable, because no one wants to anger that god from doing whatever they want.

The excuse that this was Satan’s attempt at dirtying the line of humanity leading up to Christ is absurd, since there is nothing more dirty than sin which was already deeply embedded in humanity and for which Jesus was already crucified from the foundation of the earth to resolve this known dirt. Demonic offspring is not something worse than sin. And, sin was allowed in the line of Jesus, so dirtying the line is nonsense, because dirt can’t contaminate Jesus; rather, whatever he touches, becomes clean before God.

In reality, this idea is a replacement theology that undermines the uniqueness of the Virgin Birth. It is a lie taught by demons to deceive Christians away from the miracle of Jesus. The amazing event we celebrate at Christmas of the virgin birth of Jesus through Mary by the “overshadowing” of the Holy Spirit, is rejected as a unique miracle by those who promote this distorted idea of Nephilim as offspring of demons and women. In other words, Jesus was nothing special, because Satan already caused lots of spirit caused human births through women back in the days of Noah.

As Scripture declares about deceived teachers in the Church, “and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will”.

Those who are interested in what Scripture is likely referring to when addressing the Nephilim, stay tuned.

Nephilim are mentioned twice in scripture, the first as a declaration of existence (pre-flood) and the second time as a claim of comparison (post-flood).

“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” (Gen 6:4)

“We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Nu 13:33)

The latter was principally a statement of fear from the Israelites, that physically tall people existed in the land that compared to stories that had been passed down from pre-flood days. If you have ever played the “telephone” game with kids, you know that fear stories take on a life of their own when passed from person to person, and seldom can be relied upon as accurate records of original truth.

If this belief–not about Spirit-babies, but about descendants from Nephilim living during the time of Israel–is true (and both verses indicate that they exist on both sides of the Flood), then there is only one way for that to have passed through the flood–someone was on that boat with Noah. With regard to the devotion of Noah, it is not likely that this could apply to him, his wife, or their children. However, it is easily possible for it to apply to one of the wives of his sons. That woman could have been the offspring of an illicit marriage between a descendant of Seth and someone not devoted to God. That would put such a woman in that in-between zone and would convey the lineage of those known as Nephilim beyond the flood and into the people known as Anakites. However it occurred, the reference is a strong indication that these people were not all wiped out with the great flood, and still influence the lineage of humanity. This would mean that the idea of preventing the “dirtying of the line” is irrelevant, because it remained in the human line, just like sin remains throughout humanity.

With that said, the first biblical reference is the most reliable for forming a belief regarding what the Nephilim really were. Note, there is absolutely no hint of spirits, sex, or some new race of half-humans (someone to replace the idea of the “new man in Christ”).

One method of review is to consider the immediate context. The second approach is to consider how it fits (or doesn’t) with the rest of scripture. In other words, what is it really saying in this passage, and then what are the implications—because if the proposed theory conflicts with scripture, then it is wrong. Although this approach may get us closer to the truth, I acknowledge that God may not yet provide us with sufficient clues to grasp the exact meaning (although, in this case, I think the evidence strongly leans in one direction).

The immediate context in effect states that mankind had expanded in several ways that over the generations had demonstrated the wickedness of mankind to such a degree that God found in necessary to destroy all but Noah’s family. This is how I understand the intent of this passage. Most Christians accept this overall understanding. The difference comes in what exactly was God saying by recording the features regarding what were called Nephilim.

Perhaps we can take a look at several key phrases:

“Men began to increase in number” – The passage emphasizes that physical numbers had increased, and that this was somehow impacting the circumstances of God’s conclusion, which begins in verse 5. God told man not to gather together in cities, but to spread out, and in several later references He talks about the increasing “fullness of sin” over groups of people. This truth is easily seen throughout history like when some infectious disease spreads through large groups as compared to those more spread out.

“Sons of God”- Some modern teachers will try to overemphasis their ideas by misrepresenting the truth. Some will claim that in the OT every time this phrase is used it applies to angels (like in Job 1:6), but that is not exactly correct. First of all this passage with regard to the Nephilim talks about men several times and nowhere says angels or spirits. God even laments that he is done with his Spirit striving with “men” not angels or angel-men and not with Nephilim (as if they were something other than descendants of Adam and Eve).

In the first two of three references in Job, when the Sons of God come before God and Satan shows up, Satan is not included in this group (which he would be if it involved fallen angels). This may involve angels, but it may instead involve believers “giving account” through the Spirit of God – like Job – during which the “accuser of the brethren” shows up. Also, in Daniel, “one like the Son of God” is observed in the fiery furnace. This clearly refers to one in right relationship with God and prophetically represents Jesus (the Son of God) who saves us from certain destruction from our sins in a fiery Hell. It does not emphasize angelic spirit, but representation of God. Even the demons repeatedly give Jesus the title of Son of God rather than applying it to themselves. Heb 1:5 clearly quotes the OT on this topic that God himself never called an angel “son”. This title is reserved specifically for Jesus and for those who are supposed to reflect the will of God as a child of God. Those familiar with the Christmas story will recall that when the physical lineage of Jesus is cited, it ends with “Adam, the son of God”, a human, and not an angel.

Some suggest that this phrase only refers to those who are direct created beings from the hand of God, unlike descendants of Adam who are born in a natural way; but, if that is the case then God would not declare believers to be adopted as “sons.” This is what God declares regarding humans and not angels, “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Eph 1:5). The truth is that if God causes “fallen” men to be declared “sons” today, then it is no surprise that the same would have been possible for his “chosen” leading up to the days of Noah.

“Men…and daughters were born to them”; “Saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and they married any of them they chose” –

This reference to men is in contrast to Sons of God, but not by introducing a new being, but rather as a reference to the differences in relation to God. Some had an open door to God through the blessing of Seth (God extends both blessings and curses to descendants), but even with that blessing, they began making choices based on physical attributes and not based on relationship connection with God (this is the same truth as recorded in 2 Cor 6:14 about not being unequally yoked with an unbeliever, including in marriage).

“Not contend with man forever” – This whole issue is addressing Gods displeasure with mankind and specifically with those who should know better because of their heritage and training. Nowhere does it even hint that God is upset with man because angels tried to “dirty” the lineage of the Savior.

“Nephilim” – Although it is common to interpret this word as physical giants, that is not necessarily the context or the original usage (although some modern teachers will tend to skip this part). It almost seems silly to say this, but big people don’t cause more sin. However, influential people do!

The root word is “nephal” which means “he fell”. The idea is about turning away from God. The Septuagint translates the original with “gigantes,” which literally means “earth-born”. We get our word giant from this, but that was not the original usage. In other words the nephilim were “fallen earth-born men with the animal and devilish mind,” according to Adam Clark. Those who think “fallen” ones only refer to angels, don’t understand the desperate predicament of mankind, let alone the context which has absolutely no mention of spirits at all—only mankind and God.

“Mighty men which were of old, men of renown” – As earlier stated, influential people like powerful, skilled and charismatic leaders can sway mass crowds to follow their bidding. Every culture in history has demonstrated the intoxicating influence of religious leaders—individuals who have a form of religion, but use it for evil. In the book of Revelation, it is the False Prophet that so deceives the masses that Jesus says that if he didn’t intervene, that even the elect would be led astray.

In spite of Satan’s influence, mans problems are his own and can’t be blamed on “bad genes”. God holds mankind responsible for his own choices. Nephilim might be more comparable to the concept of “nominal Christian”, “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, “apostate”, “anti-Christ”, “false believer”, and “backslider”.

The implications of this angel-man union hearken more to the pagan religions of the ancient world where mighty men like Hercules and Achilles supposedly came from, or where people were encourage to let their daughters serve as temple prostitutes so the gods would be kind to their crops. To imply that this is supported in scripture as something that actually happens when there is absolutely no evidence of angels procreating is simply a propagation of paganistic beliefs. Shockingly, I heard one preacher state that because there are so many mythological stories that promote such an idea, that the legends of the Ancient Greeks embody the truth about spirit/human procreation. Clearly he has bought into the lie propagated by Satan over the millennia in order to deceive and mislead; Scripture, not mythology or popularity, embodies truth!

As an expansion on the earlier comments regarding Seth, I believe the Nephilim probably are descendants of his line through Enosh, from whom it is said, “At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26). It is an observation at this point, but I think it is reasonable to view a comparison to the pattern of descendants of Abraham. God called Abraham, who had two sons, God passed his blessing down through only one, Isaac. Isaac had two sons, and the blessing was passed down through Jacob and not through Esau. Jacob had twelve sons and God chose to pass the blessing of his choice regarding who would be identified as his own people through all twelve. Over time, it became evident that in spite of them being considered the select children of God, most chose to go their own way rather than follow God. Jesus, who came through this lineage, again establishes a clear line of blessing.

It is likely that this pattern was similar back in the time of Enosh. God established a lineage of people who maintained a relationship with him beginning first with one man, in the heart-likeness of Abel, and eventually through multiple descendants until an entire group of people would have developed.  His Spirit dwelled in them in such a way that it manifested divine power in a way that produced “heroes” much like it did through later prophets like Sampson. In a very similar way as Sampson, they knew they represented God as “sons of God,” but instead of remaining pure in their lineage of faith, they chose to “marry any of them they chose.” They chose the “Delilah’s” of their day who descended from those men who did not have the Spirit of God. God then selected a type of the Savior Jesus, in the person Noah, to continue a clear line of blessing.

This is why God would say that his “Spirit will not contend with man forever”—speaking of his own representatives, rather than just those living in the spirit of Cain. In other words, this reason for the flood is because those who should have known better, and who belonged to God as his people, and who had the Holy Spirit, were turning away from their devoted obedience to remaining sanctified and pure before God by keeping their sensual desires limited within the boundaries of those women who also believed and were of the holy line. God was not willing to allow his Spirit to contend within those with whom they should have done what God wanted and not what they naturally desired. (Sounds familiar for Christians too, doesn’t it: “marry whomever they choose, so long as they belong to the Lord”).

Just as God began to remove his Spirit’s presence from Israelite descendants, as they adulterated themselves with foreign women, so God began to restrict the Spirit in his representatives from the line of Seth, starting first by limiting their life span to 120 years on average. The fact that scripture says that the evidence of the qualities common to the Nephilim were repeated in some manner “and also afterward,” indicates that the dramatic power of the Spirit was passed down for a time through the line of Noah beyond the flood. This residual effect, of the impact of the Spirit causing dramatic things through a person well after the specific event, is recorded in the glowing face of Moses, and in the speaking-in-tongues and miraculous public healings witnessed in the early church.

With regard to procreation, it is amazing how often the ideas surrounding Nephilim involve angels. The bible repeatedly makes it clear that beings only reproduce “after their kind” (Gen 1:12, 24). Dogs only produce dogs, fish produce fish, Oak trees produce Oaks, and humans can only reproduce humans. There has never been any evidence that denies the truth of this created boundary—angels cannot have intercourse with humans and produce anything! Scripture all tells us that angels were not designed for marital relationships (Mt 22:30). For those who believe that “not marry” is somehow different from “intercourse;” I suggest they review how God designed for a marriage covenant to be formed as repeatedly recorded in the OT. To reinforce this point, we read that when the Nephilim “went to the daughters of men” they “had children by them.” To imply, as many do, that these were fallen angels that were attempting to “dirty” the eventual lineage of Christ is absurd because it denies scripture. All beings only reproduce after their own kind.

This applies to God as well.

An important distinction should be made here, in spite of being created in the image of God, humans are not God, nor can they reproduce God. God, on the other hand, can procreate “sons of God” through intimacy of the Holy Spirit. As part of the Christmas story, we are told that God the Holy Spirit “over-shadowed” the human woman named Mary, who remained a virgin because this was not actual intercourse, and her subsequent child was God the Son as well as human. As a result of a created potential to be of a similar “kind,” believers have their spirit filled with the Holy Spirit and are born-again as sons of God while also still remaining human, after the likeness of Jesus.

When believers are “born-again”, it is as a result of the Spirit of God transforming the “spirit of man” which was in some way made in the “image of God”, by which, unlike any animal which also breathes air, God “breathed” life into him—something unique in all of creation and not in the likeness of angels. It is not a function of creation or will by which spirit can cause human birth into something new; rather, it is purely by divine “right”.

“Yet to all who received him, 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.” (Jn 1:12-13)

Satan does not have that right or ability to cause life to develop through a human. Those who teach such garbage are promoting things taught by demons and that appeal to the sensual lusts of human fascination, not something real or true.

As Job says, “what is man that you make so much of him? (Job 7:17). Believers are called sons of God their Father (Mt 5:45), but this is not ever spoken in regards to angels, because only believers can fulfill what was intended by having made man in the image of God (Heb 1).

Notice that the Nephilim and “daughters of men” were said to have reproduced children of men, not children of the more notable label Nephilim. The identity was that of humanity. In quite the opposite manner with God, the Spirit joins with our spirits and reproduces the dominate likeness of God, not the likeness of other human spirits. The identity for believers is that of Jesus, the Son of God. The identity for those who are sons of God, but live more like Nephilim, will be just as it was for the original ones in the time of Noah’s flood, absolute destruction.

This is not to suggest that “fallen” angels don’t have any culpability from the days of Noah. We are instructed today that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12). So it likely was back then, that demons will be held responsible for their influence on the events and choices of men like alluded to in 2 Pet 2:4-5 and Jud 6-8. God will hold all of creation responsible for their contributions. As a result, mankind cannot claim to be the victim of angelic causation in their sin, let alone in their “procreation” outside of the guidelines of God. Men only procreate men after their kind; and, deceitful angels will be held accountable for their part in influencing men to turn away from the will of God.

God alone creates life. He gives that ability only to those he chooses who submit to his authority and who restrain that power within the boundaries he has established. Demons can’t create life, either on their own, or through sex with women. This limitation is what Eve referred to when she prophesied about the very first human birth:

“With the help of the Lord, I have brought forth a man”. (Gen 4:1)

The language used in Gen 6 is directed specifically at those men who should have known better and practiced what was right before God as a result of the “contending” Spirit of God in them and not to the rest of humanity and not to demons.

“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this coming he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2Pet 3:3-7).

Either you will believe what you want, or you will submit to accepting what honors God. You have a choice, and you will be given the chance to explain why you believed what you did, and why you taught others what you did.

Posted in Bible Study | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Mountain and The Law–Stating the Obvious

In my neck-of-the-woods, there is a common reference that all the locals know. Whenever someone who has spent any length of time in Washington State hears the reference, “the Mountain”, they instantly know to what the speaker is referring.

We have many beautiful mountains here, often glistening white with glaciers and snow, but they are typically spoken of by using their name. There is only one, that deserves the shortened label of “the Mountain”, and everyone here knows which one that is. Outsiders, will not be familiar with this, because it is by common acceptance that those who know this mountain which towers above all others in this area, know that it is the only thing meant by the shortened label. There is no other mountain implied.

Whenever the question is asked, “Did you see the Mountain this morning”, all locals know that the question is about Mount Rainier.

This is the exact same thing the writers of Scripture do when referring to “The Law”. Those who were familiar with the context, would be in no doubt about the reference. Everyone familiar with what the speaker was familiar with would immediately know that they meant the Mosaic Law, also termed the Old Covenant Law, and the Jewish Law, and the Law given to Ancient Israel.

There was no confusion about what the speaker meant when referencing “The Law”. It always referred to that one, very familiar law. The Apostle Paul often uses this shortened phrase, because as he stated: “I am speaking to those who know the Law.” There was no doubt about the specific reference. The Law only and always meant The Old Covenant Law given by God, through Angels, to Moses, for the ancient people of Israel.

Outsiders would not understand this. They could easily think that Scripture was speaking about laws in general, or about legal systems, or about all statements in the form of commands. But that would be in error. The Law only meant one thing, and all those familiar with the territory would know exactly what the writer was saying.

The key to recognizing the meaning behind shortened labels is getting to know the locals. When someone speaks about Dad, it should be recognized that they are specifically referring to their own father and not anyone else’s dad. When someone says, “I’ll meet you at church”, it should be clear that the speaker and the intended hearer would be familiar with which church location, because it would be common to their experience. When someone comments about the President, or the King, or the teacher, they are not giving general references; the context will demonstrate the obvious reference to whomever is President to that group at that moment, or their specific King, or the teacher of their common class.

Since the Protestant Reformation, this reality has somehow been missed.

Those who wrote commentaries and taught in their newly minted congregations out of books like the Letter to the Romans, often added their own foreign context to the shortened label. When the Bible spoke about “The Law”, they tended to expand the meaning. What was meant to refer specifically to the Old Covenant, became statements that could be used to apply to any legal system or commanded obligation.

When Scripture declares that Christians are no longer under Law, but under Grace, the new idea became that believer were no longer under any legal obligation before God. When it says we have been set free from the Law, these teachers shifted the locally-familiar meaning to include being set free from needing to follow any form of law. In this way indulgences, penance, authority, and even taxes could be resisted, in the name of Scripture.

This is how the concept of legalism entered Christian theology. It is commonly assumed that legalism is some bad thing, something that ought to be cautioned against, something that actually exists, but it was manufactured out of a misunderstanding about “The Law”.

God doesn’t address legalism in Scripture. The entire concept is man-made, a straw-man theory that has been set up in the minds of believers as something that should be avoided and attacked at all cost.

Whenever a person reads a passage, like forgive your brother or you will not be forgiven, the command is often softened into just advice and not something legally expected upon a believer who desires to be saved. If a person suggests that it is necessary to do what God says, or to be concerned about warnings cited in Scripture to believers, they are very often rebuked as a legalist.

In fact, I heard a pastor tell the men at a Bible study that “the 10 Commandments were just more like Fatherly advice”. Another teaching elder stated that “anyone who tries to obey the words of Jesus is just a legalist”.

But the locals know better. They all know the voice of their Shepherd and are not misled by foreign ideas. They know that when the Bible says, “The Law”, that it is referencing the Mosaic Law that had dominated the landscape of that day and those early converts to Christianity.

Those locals of the Kingdom of God also know that Paul made a clear distinction about what he meant when saying that believers are no longer under Law, but Grace. Christians are not under the Jewish Law, but by the grace of God we are under the legal boundaries of “Christ’s Law”.

“To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.” (1 Cor 9:20-21)

Have you seen The Mountain today?

Posted in Approaching Scripture, Christian Gospel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment