A True Story!

Gather round and I’ll tell you a story. It’s a true story, and something of great value can be learned from it. In one sense it’s quite whimsical, but it is also very sad. So here goes…

Once upon a time there were two families who, having been part of a church for several years, suddenly announced that they had discovered together what true fellowship actually was. Having received such a ‘revelation’ of what the Christian life was really about, they had therefore concluded that everyone else with whom they had been in fellowship up to then were just hypocrites who were not following the Lord as they should. God had also, they said, shown them that they must leave the church and start a new life together living in community. So they left behind the brothers and sisters they now believed to be hypocrites and pursued their vision, making all the necessary preparations and arrangements for their new life together. Moving into a shared property they were finally free to experience together the ‘revelation’ of fellowship which they so fully believed the Holy Spirit had given them.

Three weeks later – yes, I kid you not – three weeks later they had a falling out and went their own separate ways, each family having presumably concluded that the other was another example of the same Christian hypocrisy in the church they had left to pursue the vision in the first place.

…and they all didn’t live happily ever after!

So what’s the big lesson here? And I gotta tell you, it’s a really vital one! And it’s the importance of properly understanding the simple biblical principle that if there is un-acknowledged and un-dealt with sin in our lives that we aren’t being honest about, then instead of judging ourselves and repenting of that sin, which is what we should do, we will start to see it in everyone else’s lives and (quite wrongly) accuse them of it instead.

What the two families in our story failed to realise, though it was pointed out to them before they left the church, was that the problem they thought they were identifying in others was actually in them. So when they left to start their new life together they just took the problem with them. And precisely because it was their problem, as opposed to anyone else’s, they inevitably ended up seeing in each other the same ‘hypocrisy’ which they had previously thought they were seeing in everyone else in the church.

When Jesus taught about removing the log in one’s own eye before trying to remove a speck in someone else’s, this is exactly what He was meaning. A Christian who has a tree trunk in their eye is not going to be very good at identifying a splinter in someone else’s. If a believer can’t even identify, and be honest about, their own sin, then how on earth do they expect to be able to think clearly and rationally concerning other people’s?

Many Christians seem to be completely unaware that the anger, resentment and sense of having been ‘offended’ by others which they so readily feel, is actually their reaction to, and therefore evidence of, the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, but of sin which they aren’t willing to be honest about and repent of. Many believers spend their entire Christian lives going from church to church, group to group, fellowship to fellowship, only ever settling anywhere for any length of time to the extent that their ears are being ‘tickled’ by whatever it is they want to hear, and whilst no-one is likely to advise, correct or admonish them regarding their sin. But even when no-one is advising, correcting or admonishing them regarding sin, they often still eventually fall out with those around them thus moving on yet again, because their unrepentant state means they remain spiritual babies who get easily upset and offended at things which mature believers wouldn’t even notice, let alone allow themselves to be negatively affected by. They only ever think of themselves as being the innocent victims of the wrongdoing of others, whilst never being open to the fact that they might themselves be the guilty perpetrators of wrongdoing! It is sad that so many Christians today think in such a way!

A profound change came about in my own Christian life when the Lord started to work on me in this regard, and when I started to realise that my biggest problem wasn’t other people’s sin, but my own. I started to realise that, for instance, the problem wasn’t that other people were irritating, but rather that I was irritable – and Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that irritability is not love, and therefore sin! So what was the big change? It was that I started to at last identify what the real problem was! Me! It wasn’t, as I had always just assumed and taken for granted, that other people were, for instance, irritating, but rather that I was irritable! And man oh man, what a difference that made! It was exactly the same regarding how I would so easily consider other people to be annoying! And what I saw was that irrespective of whether others were being annoying or not, the real problem was that I would so easily get annoyed. And that was because of my own self-righteousness which I was failing to judge.

This is why we need to periodically ask the Lord to show us anew just how sinful we actually are, and just how terrible our sin actually is. We so readily justify our sinful reactions by concentrating on what we perceive to be the wrongdoing of others, and in particular of whoever it is we are reacting against at any one time. I’m not saying there is never a time for legitimate anger or annoyance – as scripture says, “Be angry, but sin not!” – but let’s be clear that so much of what we would like to put down to being righteous anger is really just our own intolerance, peevishness and resentment at having not gotten our own way over something, or with having not been agreed with, or whatever!

The two families in our story got into such a terrible mess because they weren’t willing to face up to the simple fact that the problem they were struggling with was in them and not others, and that it would therefore go with them wherever they went. They were just blaming others for their own un-dealt with sin and disobedience to the Lord. It’s a bit like if someone were to trip over their shoelaces, having not done them up properly, and then shift the blame by accusing others of having pushed them.

There are so many Christians of whom it can be said that nothing is ever their fault! The sin, the mess, the division and contention – or whatever – that surrounds them wherever they go is, so they claim, always due to the wrongdoing of others, and never their own!

May we not, I pray, be numbered among them!

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Law and Grace – Part 2

We saw yesterday that although we aren’t under the Mosaic Law we are nevertheless still bound by the commands and strictures of the New Covenant, including the ones which many Christians seem to not like. There is nothing lawless about the Christian life, and we are scripturally bound by what God’s Word terms the ‘Royal Law.’ Not being under the Mosaic Law doesn’t mean that we are not under anything at all. Indeed, not being under Moses means we are actually under the Lord Jesus Christ, and precisely as Lord of all He is meant to be obeyed, and obeyed implicitly! But what about the teaching that many Christians buy into that we are meant to still be subject to the Mosaic Law in some way? Let’s go to the scripture we need then in this regard:

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

‘The days are coming, declares the Lord,

    when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
    It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
    This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.’

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:7-13)

I think the problem is that some Christians fear that the idea of the Mosaic Law being done away with in some way impugns it, and therefore disrespects the Lord Himself and His chosen people Israel. This is understandable but mistaken. Paul deals with this in his writings too (Romans 7 and Galatians 3 in particular), and demonstrates how the Law was perfect for what it was designed to do, but that having so wonderfully fulfilled its role is now necessarily obsolete. I hope this isn’t going to be too ‘Trekkie’ for anyone but let’s properly understand this by looking at modern day space travel and getting to grips with the design of the space shuttle and how it works.

The difference between the space shuttle and more conventional spacecraft is that it is designed to return to earth intact after each mission. It is, in such respect, as much an aircraft as it is a spacecraft. But of course in order to get into orbit in the first place it needs far more fuel than it could ever contain within itself. In order to fulfil whatever mission it is on, and then return to earth in one piece, it has to be designed just the way it is, thus precluding any idea of it having tanks large enough to hold enough fuel to get it into orbit. It is therefore fitted with booster rockets which do contain enough fuel, but which are not an integral part of its design. The shuttle is therefore transported into orbit through the agency of these attached booster rockets which, once in orbit, are ejected to be burned up and destroyed as they re-enter the atmosphere, being no longer needed.

Now here’s the point: although once the shuttle is approaching orbital height the booster rockets are jettisoned, it’s not because they were no good, or because they were a load of rubbish, or because they were flawed in some way and couldn’t get the job done, having to therefore be replaced by something better. No! They are jettisoned precisely because they have done their job and are therefore just no longer needed. More than that, if they weren’t jettisoned and remained attached to the shuttle they would actually become a dangerous liability. They would not only hinder the shuttle in the performance of its mission whilst in space, but actually cause its destruction upon re-entry as both boosters and shuttle burn up in the atmosphere. Streamlining is not needed anything like as much during take-off as it is during re-entry.

This is exactly the case with the Mosaic Law. The reason it is redundant since the death of Jesus is because it finished its job and simply has no further role to play. It got Israel, and humanity in general, to the coming of Jesus and therefore to the enactment of the New Covenant. It didn’t fail in any way at all! Indeed, it performed its role to complete perfection! But having done its job, then just like the booster rockets on the space shuttle, it is discarded. But also like the booster rockets on the space shuttle, any failure to properly discard it inevitably results in disaster further down the line, and any mixture of the Old Covenant with the New Covenant will rob the believer of the full experience of what being in the New Covenant is actually all about.

In every respect the New Covenant, outlined largely in the New Testament, trumps the Old Covenant, and therefore also much in the Old Testament. And for anyone who balks at that and wants to hang on to their Old Testament ‘booster rockets’ just be clear that throughout the Old Testament God allowed, and blessed, polygamy. However, neither polygamy nor the Law of Moses are for Christians who are under the New Covenant of Grace. The ‘old’ is gone and only the New Covenant now stands!

One more thing: What about the Ten Commandments? Aren’t they binding on Christians? Answer: Of course not!! The Decalogue, so called, is part of a covenant that is, as we are seeing, dead and gone. None of it’s commands are therefore binding on anyone, let alone believers who are under the New Covenant. But of course nine of those ten commandments are brought over into the New Covenant and are therefore binding on us for that reason! So, of course we aren’t free to lie, or to commit adultery or steal etc; but not because those commands are in the Old Covenant (Mosaic Law) but because they are also part of the New Covenant of Grace. The only command in the Decalogue that isn’t carried over into the New Covenant is the sabbath command, this being why sabbath observance is not part of the Christian life. (Though Paul does give concession that if someone has a weak conscience regarding it, then it is correct for them to observe such!)

So what we actually have here with the whole Law and Grace thing is is another example of the twin errors of Legalism and License. To in any way insist that the Mosaic Law is binding on the believer is to require more than the New Covenant does, and is hence legalism; but to distort Paul’s teaching about Law and Grace so as to imply that there are New Covenant commands we are free to break is to not require as much as the New Covenant does, and is therefore licentiousness. (There were obviously aspects of the function of the Mosaic Law which I haven’t mentioned relative to the nation of Israel whilst it was a theocracy, but we are here only concerned with it as it pertains to the Christian life.)

Definition: We are not under the Law of Moses because it has done its job and has been jettisoned so as to make way for the New Covenant of Grace. However, the New Covenant of Grace, though a free gift that cannot be earned, nevertheless contains commands and demands that Christians are duty bound to fully obey and to be in compliance with. These demands and commands are clearly stated in the pages of the New Testament and are non-negotiable, including those which many modern Christians don’t appear to like very much!

 

Law and Grace – Part 1

“…for you are not under law but under grace…” (Romans 6:14)

Many believers seem to be quite hazy on this, so because it’s so important it might be profitable to take a deeper look. I can illustrate the way in which many believers completely mis-understand this crucial verse through the story of a young guy I knew who, during a discussion about keeping to speed limits on the road, maintained that it didn’t matter that he would regularly speed in his car because as a Christian he wasn’t under law but under grace. And there you have it!

Another example would be the sheer number of believers, especially here in the UK, who are feminists, and who unquestioningly accept the idea of female pastors and Bible teachers. When made aware of the verses in the New Testament that specifically teach against this, rather than addressing what those verses actually say they will similarly just play the ‘law vs grace’ card. They virtually always go straight to the verse where Paul says, “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6) However, their take on this is that it means that the Holy Spirit will sometimes lead believers counter to what scripture teaches about certain things, and that when that happens then we must obviously go with His leading irrespective of what the text of scripture says. This, they say, is an aspect of what ‘not being under law but under grace’ means.

What they never seem to properly address though is just how widely this principle they so readily espouse might be legitimately applied. After all, if the Holy Spirit leads some believers to go against some of the things clearly taught in the New Testament (such as women not being in leadership in the churches), then what’s to stop Him leading any believer to go against anything taught in it? Might the Holy Spirit lead a single guy to sleep with his girlfriend? Might He lead a husband to leave his wife for another woman? Might He lead someone to abort their baby? Might He, as many Christians are now claiming, be leading God’s people to embrace gay marriage?

And of course it’s no use responding, as they often do, by saying that He would never lead anyone to do anything like that, because any such objection could only be on the basis that scripture clearly teaches that such things are wrong, and that the Holy Spirit would therefore never lead anyone to do them. But hang on! The New Testament equally teaches that we should obey the governing powers, and that it’s wrong for women to be in church leadership! So do you see the problem? I obviously accept that having women in leadership in the church isn’t in the same league of wrongdoing as such things as speeding, immorality or abortion, but the point here isn’t degrees of wrongness but simply whether or not scripture teaches a particular thing, whatever it might be. The inconsistency of such thinking is absolutely astounding! To maintain that some things scripture teaches are absolute and therefore binding whilst other things it teaches are negotiable and can be overruled by the leading of the Holy Spirit is complete nonsense. And of course the other problem is that of who gets to decide which bits are binding and which bits aren’t, and how one could be sure that what one concludes is the leading of the Holy Spirit and not an evil spirit deceiving one! The moment you buy into the deception that the Holy Spirit ever leads counter to scripture, then what you are actually saying is that you can simply decide for yourself which bits of the Bible you are willing to obey and which you are not. It is to be in disobedience to God”s Word, in whatever way, whilst trying to make out that He actually wants you to do so. Convenient, eh?

So let’s get this clear in our minds once and for all. In both the above verses Paul is comparing the Law of Moses to the covenant of grace (being saved by grace through faith in Jesus), and making the simple point that obedience to the Law of Moses doesn’t, and was never intended, to save, such being the reason for the establishment of the covenant of grace which does. The Law convicts of sin in order to demonstrate our need of salvation, but is not itself designed to do anything further. It is, so to speak, the straight edge that reveals our bent-ness! Only the covenant of grace, the new covenant, can bring about forgiveness and result in us being declared righteous in God’s sight. The Mosaic Law (the letter) kills because it convicts of sin and that is all, whereas the New Covenant (the Spirit) actually enables personal holiness through the Lord’s life in the believer. Paul’s comparison is not, therefore, letter – as in the text of scripture, vs Spirit – as in the subjective guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit in the believers life. No! It is the Mosaic Law vs the New Covenant of Grace!

But although the covenant of grace is, by very definition, salvation apart from works; that is, a free gift, and therefore not in any way earned or merited, it nevertheless still contains commands and instructions which, once saved, we are required to submit to. It isn’t that getting to Heaven is then contingent upon ongoing obedience to those commands, of course not! Getting to Heaven is contingent upon what Jesus did for us on the cross, and that we have entered into that through faith in Him; but having become God’s children when we were born again – that being what being born actually means – our Father in Heaven wants us to then be good children who are becoming increasingly obedient to Him. Further, he will discipline, and even punish us, when we are not being obedient, but such chastisement has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not we will make it to Heaven. It’s simply that He wants us to start being the obedient children down here that we will eventually fully and perfectly be for eternity in glory.

Definition: the law we are not under is the Mosaic Law which kills. We are, however, under the New Covenant which gives life, and which requires us to live in obedience to whatever scripture teaches other than the Mosaic Law. Regarding our examples of obeying the law of the land when driving, and women not being in leadership in the church, both are taught in the New Testament quite separate to the Mosaic Law, and are therefore binding on us as Christians. Being under grace is not, therefore, as many believers seem to think, a form of lawlessness that gives us the freedom to just go against anything in the Bible we don’t happen to like, and to do so by claiming that the Holy Spirit is leading us. The Holy Spirit never leads counter to scripture – He wrote it, for heavens sake – and we are completely deceived if we think but for one moment that He does.

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

That’s the balance! There you have the correct mix! The law that was given through Moses is, as Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers make so clear, gone! It has been superseded and replaced by the covenant of grace. But that covenant of grace isn’t just grace alone with no further definition or clarification! No! It is grace and truthand that changes everything! And the truth of this covenant of grace that we are under, its terms and conditions, have been fully revealed in the pages of the New Testament, there therefore being a great many requirements and demands on us. In other words, it is also law in such respect, just like the Law of Moses is! It has different commands and instructions in many respects, certainly, but it nevertheless still does contain commands and instructions that we are expected by the Lord to live in obedience to. Paul calls this new covenant ‘the law of the Spirit’, whilst James refers to it as being the ‘royal law!’ And there you have it! Not being under the Mosaic Law doesn’t mean we aren’t under law at all. Quite the contrary! We are under the law of the new covenant of grace! So whereas it’s fully biblical to think in terms of the Mosaic Law vs Grace, it is completely unbiblical to think in terms of Grace vs Truth! So too when it comes to love. We can no more set love and truth against each other than we can grace and truth. As Paul says, “..speaking the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15)

There is therefore never a legitimate choice between grace and truth, any more than there can be a legitimate choice between love and truth. It is never grace or truth, and neither is it ever be love or truth. This isn’t an either/or deal but strictly a both/and one! It’s grace and truth and love and truth…or it is none of them at all! Whether you choose grace and love over truth, or truth over grace and love, you will always end up with something that is not only unbiblical, but ugly in the extreme. As we saw in an earlier post, you will end up being either harshly legalistic or sinfully licentiousness! Grace and scripture, and love and scripture! That’s the balance!

Al’righty then! We’ve dealt with the error of thinking that not being under law but under grace is a kind of lawlessness, but now we must tackle the equal and opposite error which many Christians buy into, that we are in some way still under the Mosaic Law.

See you tomorrow then!

 

Is God’s Love Unconditional?

The term ‘unconditional love’ seems to have only appeared fairly recently in human history and is, I think, a product of the modern liberal western mentality which is obsessed with such notions as loving oneself and of always being affirmed and never judged. Past generations didn’t use the term because they simply had no need to. Because they better understood what love is than do people today, the term simply wasn’t necessary. One just talked about love. But because the term is so becoming so increasingly widespread even amongst Christians, we do need to give it some thought. Indeed, a great many believers seem to be incapable of talking about God’s love without needing to be constantly emphasising that it’s unconditional. But is it, though? Is it biblically correct to speak in terms of God’s love being unconditional?

Think of it like this! A coin has two sides and not just one, and many things in life similarly have more that just one aspect to them. So if we talk about something that has various aspects as if it only had one, then although what we say may be true in so far as it goes, it won’t be the whole truth of the matter and will actually be misleading. This is happening more and more in regards to how Christians are increasingly defining God’s love, and the result is not only that they are deceiving themselves, they are also deceiving unbelievers through the unbiblical content of their so-called evangelism.

I concur that it is most certainly the case that love is unconditional; but to merely emphasise that aspect of it’s nature, but to not also represent the other side of the coin, is to completely misrepresent what it is, and to completely fail to properly define it. You can no more have unqualified unconditional love than you can have a one-sided coin. Love that is not unconditional could not be considered to be love, but neither could something be considered to be love which claims itself to be solely unconditional with no further qualification! One-sided coins simply don’t exist, and neither does a love which claims as the only aspect of its nature it’s unconditionality.

Think of parents raising their kids. Any parent worth their salt loves their children unconditionally; but precisely because they love them unconditionally they also, by very definition, desire their ultimate happiness and well-being. Good, decent and responsible parents instinctively know that in order to accomplish this the child must be taught right from wrong and good from bad, and that the parent must be ready, whenever necessary, to actually impose discipline on the child in order to bring about that end. Parents who care nothing about their children’s behaviour, whether it be good or bad, and who care nothing about their developing characters, whether their kids are nice or horrible, and then claim that their lack of concern is because they love their children unconditionally, would not just be extremely bad parents, they would also be talking complete nonsense. Doing whatever is necessary in order to ensure that their childrens’ behaviour is moving from bad to good, and from wrong to right, is one of the necessary evidences that parents do indeed love their children. To then add the (completely unnecessary) caveat that such parents also love their children unconditionally is simply another way of saying that they love their children. A good parent, by very definition, loves their child unconditionally at any and every point in their moral development, but precisely because they do love their children with such unconditional love, they also cannot help but want to see them continually improving in their human and moral development. The ‘other side of the coin’ of love being unconditional is, therefore, that love also seeks to improve, in whatever way it can, the condition and well-being of its object.

The reason that love is, by very definition, unconditional, and why it could never be said to be love otherwise, is because the only alternative would be that it had to be earned. It would need to be secured by ongoing acceptable performance. But of course such could never be said to be love! It is simply the gaining of favour through merit, which is an entirely different thing to being loved! Conversely, however, to claim to ‘love’ someone whilst doing nothing to bring about their improvement is equally a complete mockery. You might as well assure a starving beggar in the street that you love him unconditionally, and then add that precisely because your love for him is unconditional it doesn’t matter whether or not you give him some food. Such would be both a mockery and travesty of any notion of love!

I therefore put it to you that the reason so many Christians are increasingly putting such emphasis on God’s love being unconditional, and going so completely out of their way to assure people that He loves everyone ‘just the way they are’, is because they have been deceived by the prevalent over-emphasis on the unconditional aspect of the nature of love, and the idea that the behaviour of those who are its objects is irrelevant to that love. And what this does, however unintentionally, is to spread the falsehood that the fact that God loves people unconditionally means that He won’t ever judge and punish them. Such is, of course, exactly what unrepentant sinners love to hear! It is a ‘gospel’ of having all the benefits of there being a divine Creator, but a Creator who puts no moral requirements upon those He has created, and Who will never punish them for their rejection of Him! What more could unrepentant sinners want by way of a totally false gospel? All the sin and depravity you could possibly want – with God’s unconditional love thrown in! And it’s Christians who are actually encouraging unbelievers to think like this. But here’s the problem: no such God, and therefore no such gospel, actually exists!

Of course God loves unbelievers unconditionally! Of course He loves them just the way they are! If you don’t love someone just the way they are then that’s just another way of saying that you don’t actually love them. But that doesn’t change the fact that, at the Great White Throne Judgement, this God-Who-unconditionally-loves-everybody-just-the-way-they-are will nevertheless throw those who haven’t repented of their sins, and who haven’t put their trust in Him, into the Lake of Fire for all eternity. However discomfiting to the modern mindset it might be, being loved unconditionally by the God Who actually does exist will avail those who reject Him absolutely nothing. Those who reject Him, and who refuse to repent, will be eternally lost, and the fact that in His love for them He has provided a way of escape, yet a way of escape which they refused to take, will make not the slightest bit of difference to fact of their eternal damnation!

Precisely because of His love the Lord has done everything necessary in order to provide salvation for all, but in order to receive that salvation the sinner must repent and believe, and if they don’t, then eternal judgement is all that awaits them! And the reason the Lord won’t let such into Heaven, even though He does indeed love them unconditionally, is because, as we have seen, there is no such thing as a love which doesn’t seek the improvement of the one loved, and therefore no such thing as a love that can’t be rejected by its object. If someone refuses to be improved by the unconditional love of God (or of anyone else for that matter), then the fact that He does so love them makes no ultimate difference. In refusing to be improved by Him they put themselves beyond anything further He can do. Though loved beyond measure, those who refuse to surrender shut themselves out from that love, and are thereby lost in their sins for all eternity. Moreover, if they so disliked the idea of being morally improved by a righteous God in this life, then just think how much they would hate being in Heaven in the next, where that same holiness and righteousness will be utterly revealed and totally all-encompassing! Don’t get me wrong! I’m not suggesting that they won’t hate being in the Lake of Fire, they most certainly will, but as those to whom God granted their desire to not be morally improved by Him, and to not be set free from their sin, they would also hate being in Heaven, though for completely different reasons!

The notion of a God of love Who just ignores sin, and Who accepts everyone just as they are, and Who is too loving to ever judge or punish anyone, is a complete fantasy! In fact, it is the most ridiculous and full-blown nonsense! There could no more be a God-of-love-but-not-righteousness-and-justice than there could be a coin with only one side. Love is, as we have seen, most certainly unconditional, but unconditional love, precisely because it is love, can never disregard the moral condition of its object.

There are ramifications here for believers too, and they are profound! We need to understand – indeed, be greatly reassured – that, as God’s children, He doesn’t love us any more when we are being obedient and faithful, and neither does He love us any less when we are sinning and in disobedience. When we are being obedient and faithful He smiles on us, but when we are sinning and being disobedient to Him, He still smiles on us, but desires to also discipline us and deal with our rebellion. He will even, if necessary, turn away from us relationally until we properly respond so as to restore our fellowship with Him. I don’t mean that He might not let us into Heaven after all, of course not! The believer getting to Heaven depends solely upon Jesus’ death, and there is nothing that can undo that! No! What I mean is that if we have un-dealt with sin in our lives then we are kidding ourselves if we think He is listening to us any more. He isn’t!

“If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me!” That’s what scripture says!

When we are in unrepentant sin the Lord just patiently waits for us to come clean and get right with Him so He can restore our relationship with Him. In such a circumstance the only thing He is saying to us, irrespective of anything we say to Him is, “Come clean and repent of that sin! You must say you are sorry!” (I have even from time to time found myself desperately repenting of just about everything except the specific thing He is actually convicting me of. Funny old world, isn’t it?)

Married couples understand this principle only too well! A husband who is unkind or disrespectful to his wife before he goes to work can hardly expect his relationship with her to be as it ought to be when he gets home, until he has put things right with her and said the needed sorry. It’s not that he and his wife have stopped being married, but rather that sin has disrupted the relationship between them until things are put right! So even though God’s children, we can nevertheless still be out of fellowship with Him relationally should we harbour unrepentant sin in our lives.

Perhaps we could put it like this: The issue isn’t actually whether God loves us, it’s whether or not we love Him; and Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my commands.” Being loved is irrelevant unless the one who is loved responds in kind!

So let’s be a bit careful then when we talk about love being unconditional. Let’s make sure that we never, even inadvertently, give unbelievers reason to think that God’s love for them means that He isn’t concerned with how they behave or with their moral condition. Our loving God, precisely because He is love, will one day judge the living and the dead, and unrepentant sinners who have never embraced His salvation will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. That they were loved by Him is ultimately irrelevant to their impending eternal damnation! Their problem is that they didn’t love Him, and therefore refused to obey Him. Any understanding of God’s love that doesn’t take this sobering fact into account is pure, unadulterated deception!

For us as believers though what matters is simply this: precisely because the Lord loves us just the way we are, He wants to also improve us so that we don’t stay just the way we are. He wants to mature us, and to move us forward in Him into ever greater fulness of the Spirit and holiness of life.

As scripture so simply and clearly says, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.”

Legalism and License: A Biblical Definition!

Definitions are crucial or no-one knows what you’re talking about. Humpty-Dumpty said that a word meant what he chose it to mean, neither more nor less, and his philosophy has increasingly caught on. So when it comes to teaching God’s Word it’s vital that we carefully define our terms in order to make crystal clear what we mean by the words we use. So I am going to periodically do some posts by way of defining, in biblical terms, various words and phrases that are used regarding the content of scripture and the Christian life. So let’s start with the terms legalism and license:

Legalism is when Christians require more of each other than the Bible does!

License is when Christians don’t require as much of each other as the Bible does!

Many believers are roundly in one camp or the other, but even those of us who try to get the balance right by staying out of both camps will tend to vacillate between the two. It is quite possible to be legalistic about some things whilst being licentious regarding others, so we must be careful not to let our guard down on this.

I therefore leave you with a couple of examples, after which you can run with the ball yourself:

  1. Any assertion that Christians must follow a particular diet regarding food and drink, or that it is wrong to watch Star Trek, would be examples of legalism.
  2. Any assertion that women can teach and/or be elders in a church, or that if believers’ marriages fail they are free to just go and find someone else to marry, are examples of license.

Wow! That was easy! More biblical definitions to come to come in due course!

 

Biblical Evangelism – Part 5

The final thing we must consider regarding biblical evangelism is that in the New Testament the apostles and the early church taught and practised that baptism was part of the actual conversion process. Throughout the New Testament evangelism consisted simply of the declaration to unbelievers that they should repent of their sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptised. That, and that alone, is the biblical gospel. And if you read the Acts of the Apostles you will find that, entirely consistent with that assertion, converts were baptised immediately upon profession of faith in the Lord.

Fundamentally, for two thousand years, the Christian Church has gotten baptism completely wrong, and two errors have dominated regarding it since the emergence of the false teachings of the Early Church Fathers. The first error is when baptism occurs when it shouldn’t (infant baptism), and secondly, when it doesn’t occur when it should; that is, when it is delayed after conversion for the purpose of any kind of baptismal preparation.

We must be clear that, if we go by scripture as opposed to unbiblical Christian tradition, baptism has nothing whatsoever to do with such things as whether your parents are existing church members and themselves baptised, or with joining a church, or with the ministrations of priests or church pastors, or with special church ‘services’ to inaugurate new converts into the Christian life. Absolutely not! None of those things have anything whatsoever to do with baptism! In the New Testament, whether someone was saved publicly in a crowd, or privately with hardly anyone else present, converts were baptised immediately upon profession of their repentance and faith and Jesus. No special meetings were required, and there was certainly no need for church leaders to be present for the purpose of presiding over proceedings and performing the baptism. Biblically, baptism was simply understood to be part of the conversion process. If you were with someone who had just believed in Jesus and gotten saved, then you baptised them as soon as possible – pure and simple!

I’m not suggesting that if someone believes on the Lord but doesn’t get baptised as part of that process they aren’t saved. Of course not! But I am saying that for two thousand years, as with evangelism in general – and many other things pertaining to our discipleship and church life – the Christian Church has followed the false teachings of mere men as opposed obeying the teaching of the New Testament. Or, to put it another way, whether it be evangelism, baptism, church life, or a myriad other things, the Christian Church continues, virtually monolithically,  to go against the teaching of scripture.

So let me summarise what we have seen in our consideration of biblical evangelism:

  1. Nowhere does scripture command that all believers are to engage in proactive evangelism.
  2. Nowhere does the New Testament instruct us to pray for the salvation of unbelievers.
  3. There is not one example in the entire New Testament of an evangelistic declaration that includes the proclamation of God’s love to unbelievers.
  4. The gospel message is the communication of the fact that God’s wrath abides on unbelievers, and that they are commanded to repent, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptised. By so doing they will receive forgiveness of their sins, the free gift of salvation and eternal life.
  5. The New Testament teaches that baptism is part of the conversion process and that converts should therefore be baptised immediately upon repentance and profession of faith in the Lord. There is no biblical requirement for the presence of church leaders, neither for special church ‘meetings’ during which baptisms are performed. Whether the evangelism had taken place in a public or private setting, the early church baptised converts immediately simply upon their profession of faith.

I do appreciate how unnerving and mind-blowing all this is, but hey, don’t blame me for the fact that the Christian Church is in so much serious error and continues to go against the Bible so much. As an Ephesian 4 pastor-teacher I am mandated by the Lord to teach what scripture says and to refute error, and I must therefore expose the unbiblical and man-originated doctrines and traditions that most other Christian leaders teach, and to which most Christians resultantly adhere. But let me end with this: If you disagree with what I have said and want to counter it in any way, then I think that’s great! Indeed, I positively welcome it! Please feel absolutely free to challenge what I have said and to correct me all you will! (Indeed, feel absolutely free to challenge anything I have ever taught anywhere!) But here’s the deal! You must do so from the text of scripture itself and not on any other basis. You are free to fire all the unscriptural theology, personal opinions and so-called ‘prophetic’ declarations at me you want, but be warned that I will only take notice of arguments and reasonings that are formulated from the text of scripture itself. I have no desire to upset or offend anyone, but when it comes to issues of doctrine, ethics and practise, I only accept as authoritative the teaching of scripture itself.

 

Biblical Evangelism – Part 4

It is nothing short of unbelievable just how much the Christian Church has got wrong when it comes to evangelism and mission. As if we haven’t seen enough that needs to be corrected already there is nevertheless more to come. And it’s not minor stuff either, because we have now got to address the fact that the very content of the gospel message that normatively goes out is,  yes you’ve guessed it, significantly unbiblical! Please underline this next point three times in red ink: Nowhere in the New Testament is there the slightest indication that the early church preached to unbelievers that God loved them.

The biblical gospel is that men and women are under God’s judgement as sinners, and are commanded by Him to repent, believe in Jesus and be baptised. In so doing they are forgiven their sins and brought into eternal life. It is not that God loves them! Indeed, in the New Testament it was only when someone had been saved that they were then schooled in an understanding of the Lord’s great love for them. Nowhere was God’s love included in the content of the evangelism of the apostles and New Testament believers. The closest thing we have in scripture to what we might think of as a manual of evangelism, a how-to-do-evangelism-type piece of literature, so to speak, is the Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke, in which the story of the evangelistic mission of the apostles, and then of their converts, is graphically presented. Understand, however, and this is so important to grasp, that the word ‘love’ doesn’t appear anywhere in the whole book.

If the evangelistic message for unbelievers is, even partially, that God loves them, then the apostles of Jesus, plus the entire early church, were apparently completely unaware of it. Repentance toward God, faith in Jesus and baptism is what they preached, pure and simple. Notice too that when it came to methodology there was nothing that even closely resembled what we would today think of as an ‘evangelistic rally.’ There was preaching to crowds, certainly, but organised evangelistic events, and so-called evangelistic crusades, nowhere featured in scripture as part of their strategy. And if someone responds by saying that such evangelistic crusades are just the best way to do evangelism today, and are just our equivalent of what the early church did then, then answer me this: why do such rallies and crusades revolve around stirring music, whether of choirs or rock bands, and why dies it all lead up to the total biblical travesty of the practice of the altar call, or ‘appeal’ as some call it. The closest thing to anything like that in scripture was that on the day of pentecost Peter was actually interrupted by folk who were so convicted of sin that they didn’t even want him to finish preaching. They just wanted to get baptised, there and then, and be saved from their sins.

The choirs and the rock bands and the music, along with the carefully staged altar calls, are really about one thing and one thing only, the manipulation of people’s emotions. Hence all the unbiblical evangelistic preaching about God’s love for sinners. In stark contrast, New Testament evangelism never aimed at the emotions, but rather the will and conscience. Biblical evangelism has as its aim causing sinners to feel bad about themselves, not good! People may get genuinely emotional as a result of hearing the truth gospel, and that isn’t a problem as long as it is the genuine gospel being proclaimed, but that isn’t what it is trying to achieve.

One of the things that really does stand out in the pages of the New Testament, and which is so totally different to the whole ‘seeker-sensitive’ nonsense of todays so-called evangelicalism, is that both Jesus and the early church made it difficult to become a believer, not easy! Much of the evangelism we see today is designed to get people saved no matter what, but the very opposite is the case in scripture. Jesus would warn people who expressed a desire to follow Him that it might mean they would end up homeless like Him. The stories He told illustrating the importance of counting the cost of following Him are salutary here. Whether it be assessing whether or not one can afford to build a tower, or deciding whether one has the necessary resources to win a war against an enemy invader, the cost has to be first be thoroughly taken into account. Far from assuring potential converts that following Him would be all blessing (by which most Christians mean mean the pleasant things in life which make one smile) Jesus told them up-front that it would mean that they would be hated and persecuted, often even by one’s own family, and that potential converts would need to hate their lives so as to come to know His instead. I gotta tell you, not very much of this features in most so-called evangelism going on today.

One further example of this! We have already seen that, biblically speaking, church gatherings are for believers and not unbelievers, but Paul does instruct how to proceed should, for whatever reason, unbelievers ever be present. And what he says in 1 Corinthians is that the result of them being present should be that the secrets of their heart are revealed, thus causing them to be convicted of sin, repent and fall on their faces before God. It is unnerving but clear, whichever part of scripture we turn to regarding unbelievers and evangelism, it is always the command to repentance being put to them and not any kind of proclamation of God’s love for them.

Crumbs, that’s got to be it now…surely! Surely there can’t be anything else biblically wrong with how Christians evangelise, can there? Well yes, there’s one more thing we must yet cover…and it’s absolutely major! I’ll see you bright and early in the morning then!