Archive for the ‘Salvation and the New Birth’ Category

By Arlin Weaver

Imagine the proverbial man who lives in a room of mirrors. No matter which way he turns, everything points back to himself.

And it’s a view he’s very content with—because he’s delighted to be the center of his universe. If he looks north, the view is graced with … himself. To the south … himself. East and west reflect the same image.

The man of the mirrors is content in his own glory—until the day a longing, vague and ill-defined, taunts him with hints of life beyond the mirrors.

This Mr. Ego is a narcissist, though, and not quickly shaken. Still, with passing years and building despair, the crisis comes, and in ultimate desperation, he cries out to the world beyond his mirrors.

He meets the Man who breaks the mirrored cell as a Liberator—and indeed, He is!

To the north is a limitless expanse of meadows, trees, and beauty. To the east are the ocean and the rising sun. To the south are inviting paths, happy homes, and busy villages. To the west are smiling faces, cheerful children, and gracious friends. This is the world beyond the broken mirror.

We’ve all been as foolish as the man of the mirrors. We’ve imprisoned ourselves by our own visions of self-aggrandizement; we’ve lived preoccupied with ourselves; we’ve embezzled God’s great gift of life and spent it on ourselves.

And only God can convince us that our walls are confining, and that there is life beyond self. At first, the very idea of the world beyond self is strange to us. Then it teases us, and ultimately torments us. The tug of the infinite trounces the tawdry cheapness of the mirrored room.

“For none of us liveth to himself” (Romans 14:7).

The advent of the gospel in our lives demands the end of the mirrors—it dares to shatter them without apology. The call of the Liberator, Jesus, is for Mr. Ego to “deny [utterly disown] himself.” He goes even further, insisting that self must die—and die by crucifixion.

This Liberator redefines virtue, too. Instead of self-gratification and self-esteem, He gives us three true virtues: love, faith, and hope (see 1 Corinthians 13:13). These are like the great, expansive vistas outside the broken room of mirrors.

With love, we forget ourselves—and our old mirror prison.

With love we discover others. Love introduces us to a world of relationships, of joyful interaction, and creative self-abandonment. With love, we become givers. With love, we share. With love, we uplift others. And with love, we forget ourselves—and our old mirror prison.

With faith we discover God. Faith is God-focused. We worship our Liberator—instead of haunting the temple of our sacrilegious self-worship. We live for God alone, we love God first, and we abandon self for God.

With hope we discover the infinite. Outside our room of mirrors, we begin our journey into an eternal future. Freed, God calls us to journey from our prison into His permanent, built-for-forever kingdom. Transience and temporal living are forgotten, and the things and virtues of God become eternally worth our investments.

I suspect you know where you live. If it’s in a room of mirrors, then you’re imprisoned.

But if God has broken your cell, and you have escaped the bondage of self, then the vistas beyond the broken mirror are yours.

Let God liberate self, and let Him teach you how to live in the freedom of love, discovering faith, and journeying with hope.

 

Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (May/June 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

From the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7

 

And seeing the multitudes, he [Jesus Christ] went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

 

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.  Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.  Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

 

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?  it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.  Ye are the light of the world.  A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.  Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

 

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.  Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.  Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.  Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

 

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.  And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.  And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

 

It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:  But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

 

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:  But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.  But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

 

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.  Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

 

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?  do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?  do not even the publicans so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

 

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.  Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.  Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

 

 

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.  Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.  But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.  Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.  After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.  Amen.  For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

 

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.  Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.  Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.  But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.  If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!  No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

 

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?  Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.  Are ye not much better than they?  Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?  And why take ye thought for raiment?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?  Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat?  or, What shall we drink?  or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek: ) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.  Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

 

Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.  And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?  Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.  Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

 

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.  Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?  Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

 

 

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.  Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

 

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.  Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.  Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

 

 

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?  and in thy name have cast out devils?  and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

 

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.  And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

 

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Aug 28

Hijacked!

By Mike Atnip

 

The most famous hijacking that has ever occurred is probably the notorious 9/11 attacks. Four airliners took off on ordinary runs to predetermined destinies, only to be taken over by men with a mission to destroy. Within a few hours both of the World Trade Center towers lay in smoldering heaps, and the Pentagon was damaged. An intervention of passengers on the fourth jet thwarted the plans to ram the White House as well. By the end of the day, almost 3,000 souls had been stripped of bodily life.

 

Despite the notoriety of that quadruple hijack, there is another quadruple hijack that has destroyed its ten thousands. And instead of commandeering airliners and turning them into potent bombs, this hijacking uses mere words. By taking four words and turning them in another direction than where they were intended to go, many have been deceived and stripped of spiritual life.

 

Those four words are found in Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Grace, saved, faith, and works. Let’s look at these terms in the context in which they were written. With each word we will start with the hijacked definition and then strive to turn it back to its intended meaning.

 

Grace

When it is used in the New Testament, [grace] refers to that favor which God did at Calvary when He stepped down from His judgment throne to take upon Himself the guilt and penalty of human sin. …

 

“Grace” means “undeserved favor.” Even though you deserve to pay your own penalty for sin which is death in the Lake of Fire, God offers to pay your penalty for you through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus.

 

The above words represent a typical view of grace in a typical church in North America. But what is wrong with that definition? It reminds me of someone who takes a pie that is 12 inches in diameter, and cuts a slice one inch wide and eats it. Then he tells everyone he has eaten a whole pie. Not so!

 

The above view of grace takes one small aspect, the forgiveness of past sins, and makes that the whole of grace. And, that is not even getting into any debate about whether the viewpoint presented above about Christ’s atonement is correct or complete. Is grace only about forgiveness of past sins? Let’s look at what else grace accomplishes:

Grace gives ability and power to missionaries. Acts 14:26 Grace turns unjust men into just men. Romans 3:24 Grace gives power to reign over sin. Romans 5:17 Grace gives gifts to minister: prophecy, teaching, exhortation, etc. Romans 12:6 Grace makes men to be wise architects in God’s kingdom. 1 Corinthians 3:10 Grace leads men to simplicity and sincerity. 2 Corinthians 1:12 Grace moves the poor to give liberally. 2 Corinthians 8:1 Grace moved Christ to live in voluntary poverty, to enrich us. 2 Corinthians 8:9 Grace makes good works abound in men. 2 Corinthians 9:8 Grace provides strength to the weak. 2 Corinthians 12:9 Grace teaches us to deny self and live godly right here on earth. Titus 2:11-12 Grace enabled Jesus to taste death. Hebrews 2:9 Grace gives us the Spirit. Hebrews 10:29 Grace enables us to serve God acceptably. Hebrews 12:28

To state that “in the New Testament, grace refers to that favor which God did at Calvary …” definitely limits grace pretty severely! As can be deduced from the above verses, grace is God’s power working in humanity. And yet, when people read Ephesians 2:8, I think it would be safe to say that a large number of them think only in that very limited scope of grace that deals with pardon for past sins. They eat a one inch slice of pie, thinking they are eating the whole thing!

 

 

Saved

To be saved means “to be forgiven of all one’s sins.” At least that is what myriads of people seem to think. Has the word “saved” been hijacked?

 

Yes!

 

No one should think that I am indicating that “getting saved” (as a broad phrase often used in current church settings) does not include a total forgiveness of all past sins. However, the word “saved” in its biblical usage does not refer to the act of pardon, but rather deliverance. For a start, let’s look at the use of the word in the Old Testament. With a concordance or Bible software, check how the words “save,” “saved,” “salvation,” and “savior” are used in the Old Testament. What you will find is that those words are not expressly attached to the idea of forgiveness, not one single time! Yes, there are times when the context is not exactly given and the writer could be referring to the idea of forgiveness, such as in Psalm 6:4. Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies’ sake.

 

But in every case where the context is clear, “save” and its various forms always have the meaning of “rescue” or “deliver from danger.” A couple of examples from among the many available:

And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? Judges 6:14 Gideon saved Israel … not by a sacrifice for forgiveness, but by a deliverance from enemies. So the LORD saved Israel that day: and the battle passed over unto Bethaven. 1 Samuel 14:23 God’s saving act was not a pardon. Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies. Nehemiah 9:27 Notice how that men are called “saviours” here! Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah. Habakkuk 3:13 Notice that God’s salvation was accomplished by killing Israel’s enemies, not by pardoning them of sins.

 

Moving into the New Testament, the same basic pattern is seen. Note that I am not saying that the word salvation in the New Testament never includes the idea of pardon of past sins, but that is not what the word in and of itself centers on. In the New Testament, it also carries the idea of healing, so that sometimes the same Greek word is translated “save” and sometimes “heal.”

 

A few cases where “saved” is obviously referring to a rescue, rather than a pardon:

But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. Matthew 14:30 It is obvious here that Peter was not asking for a pardon, but a rescue. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. Luke 9:56 This was said by Jesus in the context of calling down fire from heaven. And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away. Acts 27:20

 

The list could go on. The point is clear that in these cases “saved” has a clear context of “rescue.” Now let’s look at some cases where the context is not so clear:

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21 How will Jesus “save” people from their sins if they are only pardoned from the ones they have committed already? If there is no grace to conquer future sins, then we have not been saved from our sins. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. Matthew 24:13 Again we find the same dilemma; if we only have a reprieve from past committed sins, but no power to endure in the future, have we been saved from sin? For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. Romans 5:10 How does the life of Christ save us? Does His life procure a pardon? No, his life, put within us, gives us power over sin. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. 1 Timothy 4:16 Can we pardon ourselves of our sins before God? Obviously not. But by continuing in the teachings of Jesus, we rescue ourselves, not in the sense that we “lift ourselves by our own bootstraps,” but in the sense that we will continue to find grace to conquer, if we will but keep looking in faith to Him. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. Titus 3:5 In this verse, how did God accomplish our salvation? By a regeneration and a baptism of the Holy Ghost! “Regeneration” speaks of a remanufacturing, and “renewing” is a renovation. Both words speak of a transformation of character, not a pardon for past failures. Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. James 5:20 To save a soul from death … does that mean to only pardon past sins? The only way a person can be rescued from death is if the past deeds of death are pardoned and the future is made alive. If not made alive, the dead spirit will continue to produce evil fruit. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:21 A very controversial verse, I know. But let’s pull out the words in parenthesis and reduce it to “baptism saves us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Let’s skip the point, for this article, of how and when a person should be baptized with water. The point to focus on is how the salvation is accomplished: by the resurrection of Jesus. In short, we have to experience the same death Christ did, and the same resurrection, in our own hearts. We have to die with Him to our self-centered ways (take up the cross), and be brought to a new life by Him (experience the “first resurrection”). Christ’s resurrection in us accomplishes this, and that saves us—rescues us—from the power of sin. To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins. Luke 1:77 Ah, salvation equals pardon for sins! Maybe … The word “remission” means to release in some cases (See Luke 4:18 where the words “deliverance” and “liberty” are used) while in other places it does seem to refer specifically to a pardon (See Mark 3:29). Let’s stick the meaning of “deliverance and liberty” into Luke 1:77 and see what happens: To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the deliverance and liberty from their sins. That sounds like exceptionally good news![1]

 

The point is that we limit our Christian experience drastically if we only think in terms of pardon when we read “saved” or “salvation.”

 

What does all this mean for Ephesians 2:8?

 

Let’s take the fullness of “grace” and add that to the fullness of “salvation,” and reword the phrase “For by grace are ye saved.” Ready?

For by God’s power working in humanity—whereby men are enabled to live righteously, minister, give liberally, reign over sin, prophesy, abound unto good works, deny self, and live godly right here on earth—you are liberated and delivered from sin.

Now that we have seen what grace does, the next phrase tells how to attain that grace.

 

Faith

 

The Bible makes it clear that you can only be saved by God’s grace by putting your faith in the sacrifice of Jesus, not in your own righteous deeds.

 

So goes a typical explanation of the “faith” that Ephesians 2:8 speaks of. But let’s just get real painfully honest here. (Please read these next paragraphs slowly and completely or you may miss my point!) Where does the Bible tell us to put our faith in the sacrifice of Jesus?

 

Nowhere!

 

That’s right! Nowhere are we told to “trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross.” Don’t believe me? Check your Bible.

 

Let’s get more painfully honest yet. The Bible never even talks specifically about “the finished work of Christ on the cross.” And yet, how many times have we heard statements like, “My faith is in the finished work of Christ on the cross, not in my own works.”

 

We need to be careful about making any grand theological conclusions by this next statement alone—Christ did need to die on the cross as part of the redemption plan—but have you ever realized that Jesus said that He had already finished His work before He went to the cross? See John 17:4. Think about that verse and what it implies about the value that Jesus placed on His “work” of teaching the kingdom ethics.

 

Yet how many people are “trusting only in the finished work of Christ on the cross”? While I am not saying that Jesus did not accomplish anything on the cross, I will emphatically declare that we are never told to put our faith only in what He did on the cross.

 

Here’s why. Think with me slowly through this as it may well be a totally new paradigm for you.

 

Every time in the Bible that we are told to put faith in or believe in something, we are told to put that faith in a Person, not in what that Person did. Do you catch the difference? We are always told to believe on Him; never to believe on what He did. Check your Bible if you doubt that statement. It’s revolutionary!

 

The 1/3 Jesus

 

Here is what happens if you believe on what Jesus did, rather than on Him as a Person. You end up separating His offices and worshipping a 1/3 Jesus. Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. That anointing made Him to be Prophet, Priest, and King.

 

If someone “trusts only in the finished work of Christ on the cross for his salvation,” he ends up accepting Jesus as High Priest—a 1/3 Jesus—to the exclusion of Prophet and King. Some people have even coined the term “saving faith,” which is not found in the Bible. While that term may not be wrong if used rightly, it is often used in the context of accepting Jesus’ work as High Priest, but not including Jesus’ work as Prophet (who proclaimed God’s new law) and King (who started a new kingdom when He came).

 

Can we divide Jesus up? Can we be saved if we trust in what He did, rather than who He was? Can we accept some parts of His life, but not the whole? Can we say, “I accept Jesus as my personal Savior (Priest),” and then not accept Him as our Prophet and King?

 

No! We cannot say, “I will drink His blood, but not eat His flesh.” John 6:53 Furthermore, we need to consider Hebrews 5:9:

And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.

Jesus became the Author of Salvation unto all that obey Him. All who disobey Him are without salvation. Jesus will certainly not be your High Priest if you do not submit to His kingship and His rules and do what He says.

 

Back to Ephesians 2:8

 

We have established that we must trust in the Man Christ Jesus—the whole Jesus—to access grace. That should be sufficient when we think of defining faith, but unfortunately the idea of faith has been hijacked in another area, commonly called “faith alone.” The idea is perpetuated that true faith is tainted if it is mixed with any works that a man might do. And, supposedly, only the faith which has no strings attached to any sort of human works will open the door so grace can forgive us. Is this so?

 

James asks one of those “ouch” questions. In his typical straightforwardness, he asks, “Can faith save?” James 2:14 Can raw, naked faith, stripped of any works, save a man?

 

“Absolutely! That is the only kind of faith that can save!” says the modern Evangelical.

 

“No!” says James.

 

Raw, naked faith, stripped of all works, is dead. However, we don’t take raw, naked faith and add some random works to it either. If the faith we have isn’t producing good works, we should throw that faith away and get a faith that works. The solution is neither “faith without works” nor “faith and works.” The solution is “faith which worketh by love.” Galatians 5:6

 

Does faith save?

 

Notice also that Ephesians 2:8 does not say that faith saves us. It says “through faith.” Faith is simply a means to an end. The preposition “through” is the Greek preposition “dia,” which we will recognize in English words such as diameter (measurement by means of going through the middle), diagnosis (a conclusion achieved by looking through knowledge we have gathered), and other words with dia- as a prefix. Greek dia has the idea of what one must go through to get to arrive elsewhere—the channel used to get somewhere.

 

Faith in and of itself has not power to save us. Faith is simply the channel through which one goes to find grace, God’s power working in man. What happens if you stop in the channel, and trust in the channel to get you to the other end? Well, just take a trip to England and visit the Channel Tunnel between England and France. Enter a few steps into the Channel and stop there. Then trust the Channel to take you to France. The Channel Tunnel is a means to get to France, but it in and by itself has not power to get you there.

 

Thus it goes for those who somehow think that faith in and of itself will save a man. “Through (by means of) faith” we are saved, by grace. Grace does the actual liberating; faith is simply the channel through which grace—God’s power—can flow.

 

 

Works

 

“God doesn’t look at our performance.”

 

“Your works have nothing to do with your salvation.”

 

“I could shoot you dead, brother, and still go to heaven if I died right afterward.”

 

“Salvation has nothing to do with obedience.”

 

Yes, I have heard all of the above statements. Such erroneous ideas stem from a hijacking of the phrase, “not of works.”

 

We have seen that grace is the propelling force which liberates us from sin. We have seen that faith is the access channel to this power. Now Paul tells us something about the origins of it all. He does this by the use of another preposition, “of.” The Greek form is another recognizable prefix, “ex.” We might say, “ex-President,” or “ex-race car driver,” or “ex-Mormon.” All of these indicate the origin of a person—where he came from—but tell us nothing about where he currently is, nor where he will go. “Not of works” tells us that this whole thing of salvation does not originate from works.

 

The question is, what kind of “works” does Paul refer to? The works of God’s hand? Dead works? Works of the law? Works of love? Good works?

 

The confusion is understandable. The immediate context of Ephesians 2:8 really doesn’t offer any clear answer. But when we look at the context in which Paul uses the same phrase, in Romans and Galatians, we can determine that he is referring to “works of the law.” (See Romans 9:32 and Galatians 3:2,5 for examples.) The context of Romans and Galatians is that of the Judaizers, who declared in another place that “it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Acts 15:5

 

Why some Jews were confused

 

The confusion of the Jewish believers is understandable. For centuries it had been pounded into their psyche that one had to keep the Law of Moses, with all its ceremonies and rituals, to have a relationship with God. And that was so.

 

Except they forgot one very important fact …

 

The foundation of a relationship with God is faith, trusting in God through what He has said. The Jews, or at least some of them, forgot that underneath the structure of the Mosaic Law was the foundation of faith. And in his letters to various churches, Paul has to repeatedly remind the Jewish believers that, although the Mosaic Law was a valid structure for a certain people in a certain time frame, the foundation (faith) under that structure extended both before and after the Mosaic Law.

 

Paul used Abraham as a way to get the Jewish believers to understand the foundation of faith. He starts out by asking them a simple question (not directly, but by inference): Was Abraham a righteous man?

 

Of course, not a Jew in the whole world would deny that Abraham was righteous! Then Paul moves to his next question: How did Abraham become a righteous man?

 

At this point, the Jews probably began to see his point. Abraham lived several centuries before Moses, so obviously Abraham didn’t become a righteous man by doing the Mosaic ceremonies and sacrifices. But perhaps Abraham became righteous by getting circumcised?

 

No. Paul points out that Abraham was righteous before he was even circumcised, which the Jews would have probably agreed with upon thinking about the matter. So just how did Abraham become a righteous man?

 

Simple. Abraham took what God said and swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. If God said it, Abraham threw his whole life on it and acted upon it. And that is called “faith.” And when God saw that faith, He marked it down on Abraham’s account that Abraham had acted righteously.

 

One foundation; four structures

 

In Noah’s day, the making of the ark was done on the foundation of faith in what God had said. And Noah was a righteous man for taking what God had said and acting upon those words. In Abraham’s day, faith meant pulling up the tent stakes and moving out of Ur, not knowing where he would end up. In Moses’ day, faith meant living by the precepts of the Mosaic Law. In our day, faith means acting on what Jesus has said and taught.

 

Thus we see four different constructions built upon the same foundation of faith in God. Paul didn’t destroy Moses’ Law by preaching faith; in fact he validated the Mosaic Law as a genuine expression of faith … in its proper time and place. Paul explained that a better structure—the kingdom of God—was now being built on that same foundation of faith that extended from Adam into the future. Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Christians all build on the same foundation: faith. But each of the four had different structures to build on that one foundation.

 

The problem with the Judaizers was their thinking that the Mosaic Law was the foundation, and Christ’s teaching should then be built on top of that Law with all its Sabbaths, new moons, and dietary laws. Paul then explained in Romans and Galatians that Christianity is not “ex” (originated from) works of the Law, but “ex” (originated from) faith in God.

 

By faith, not works … The above chart shows how that the kingdom of God has a foundation of faith, not works of the Law. The kingdom of God is actually the outworking of faith, the structure that is now the valid expression of faith in God. Noah built an ark out of faith in God. Abraham left Ur out of faith in God. Moses taught and practiced the 10 Commandments out of faith in God. Today, we live by the teachings of Jesus’ kingdom out of faith in God. The kingdom of God is not “of works [of the Mosaic Law],” but rather “of [built upon] faith.” The confusion about “faith and works” many times begins when people think that Paul was referring to “good works” when he wrote about the Judaizers in his epistles. See the chart below to compare Paul’s view (as illustrated above) with the view of the Judaizers.

The error of the Judaizers was that of thinking that the Mosaic Law was the foundation of a relationship with God, and that the kingdom of God needed to be built on the foundation of sabbaths, dietary regulations, sacrifices, and ceremonies that Moses had taught.

In another of those “ouch” questions, Paul asked the Galatians: 

This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Galatians 3:2

Quite bluntly, Paul asks them how they got their baptism of the Holy Ghost. Did you get a baptism of the Spirit because you kept the Sabbath so perfectly for seven times in a row, or the new moon ritual for 10 times, or because for one whole year you kept all the dietary regulations so perfectly?

Of course not! They knew that they had been baptized with the Holy Ghost in the moment in which they had made Jesus to be the Prophet, Priest, and King of their life! Paul then reminded them that the Law of Moses was a valid structure for time past, but now the kingdom of God was to be built upon the foundation of faith in God.

 

Ephesians 2:9 again

 

Paul is reminding the Ephesians of the source—the origin—for the grace that delivered them from sin. Did that grace come from keeping the Mosaic Law? No! If one could earn a baptism of the Holy Ghost by his having kept the Sabbath, new moons, and dietary laws so perfectly, he could boast that he earned it. But the grace of the Holy Spirit is a gift from God, given to those who receive Jesus as the Prophet, Priest, and King of their entire being.

 

But wait, there’s more …

 

We have looked at the four words that have had their meaning hijacked. But that is not the end of the story. Ephesians 2:8-9 really isn’t the end of Paul’s thought. Verse 10 continues with:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Continuing the thought that Christians didn’t become holy and righteous by their own strength, Paul calls the believers “God’s poem.” Yes, “workmanship” is a translation for the Greek word poiema! He made us, not we ourselves. And what did He remake us for?

 

So that we should walk in good works! Producing good works is an ordinance of God!

 

The fallout

 

So what is the fallout of this quadruple hijacking of Ephesians 2:8-10? We see it daily all around us. Men and women are told that they can be “saved” if they will put their trust in one act that Jesus did while on earth. They can accept a 1/3 Jesus, which then becomes another Jesus than the one the Bible reveals to us.

 

We see it daily in “gospel” tracts of the “fake $20 bill” type. First, you make a person feel guilty for disobeying the 10 Commandments. Next, you quickly throw out the “grace” of a hijacked version of Ephesians 2:8-10 as a way to relieve that guilty conscience. “Presto!”—you have another “convert.” But sadly, too often not a word has been said about the Messiah also being Prophet and King; about the necessity of taking up the cross daily and following that King in His kingdom ethics—actually doing them here and now. The gospel that Jesus preached in His sermon on the mount is totally neglected, and replaced with a hijacked version of Ephesians 2:8-10.

 

I am reminded of the words of the Anabaptist Hans Denck, who during the Protestant Reformation days asked the Reformers some of those “ouch” questions:

You [the Reformers] say that the Lamb of God has taken away the sins of the world (John 1:29). How is it then that your sins are not gone?[2] …

Do you wish to have Christ the Son of the living God for a King (John 6:15); yet He should not rule over you (Luke 19:29ff)? …

You dishonor the Son if you avoid and ridicule His way, which He Himself has walked unto life, and on which He desires to lead us too.[3]

So goes the fallout from a hijacked version of what it means to be “saved by grace through faith.” Yes, some who may pick up and read a typical “get’em feeling guilty and then quick get’em saved by trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross” tract will actually come through to a genuine new birth. But more people have probably been deceived by that theology than have burst through into the kingdom of God by a total renovation of the Holy Ghost.

 

And then we have the altar calls … “Raise your hand and say this prayer with me if you want to be saved. ‘Dear Jesus, I have sinned and I accept your free gift of salvation that you purchased on the cross. Thank you, Jesus, for dying for me.’”

 

Again, there have been some real mighty conversions by people saying such a prayer, because the heart was in a true state of contrition, and the speaker of those words also let Christ be the King and Prophet of his life in that moment and started following Jesus from there on out. However, for the other 95%,[4] they walk out of the church building after saying that prayer without their sins having been taken away from them.

 

It’s called inoculation. Inoculation happens when something is injected into a plant or animal to keep it from contracting a disease. But in this case, a hijacked version of Ephesians 2:8-10 is used to inoculate a person from contracting the “disease” of a Jesus-following, obedient-to-the-King, separated, sin-killing, good-works-producing, radical Christianity.

 

In summary

 

It sometimes amazes me how some folks seem intent on making sure that good works and Christianity are shown to be eternally allergic to each other. Not so! Beginning with faith as a channel to access grace, the believer is liberated from the power of sin by grace, so that he may glorify God thereafter with a life of abundant good works. God delights in good works! Hebrews 13:16

 

Yet, Ephesians 2:8-10 has suffered a quadruple hijack to make it appear that salvation consists only of a pardon for sins, made possible to a person if he/she will trust in what Jesus did on the cross. Good works mixed in with faith in Jesus’ work on the cross will jeopardize the believer’s purity, and perhaps even cause the person to totally miss being saved by grace, because faith mixed with works is not “faith alone” …

 

What a hijack!

 

 

[1] Lord willing, in a future article I want to address “remission” and show how that ties in with the Old Testament jubilee.

[2] Meaning, their sins were not taken out of their lives; they had no freedom from sin. It is a known fact that the morals of Germany were worse after the Protestant Reformation than before.

[3] Hans Denck, Selected writings of Hans Denck (Pickwick Press, 1976), 91–92.

[4] I, of course, do not know the actual percentage of people that do get converted by saying the “sinner’s prayer.” I am probably being very charitable to say that even 5% of those saying the “sinner’s prayer” actually do get born into the kingdom of God while saying it.

 

Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (May/June 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

By Mike Atnip

 

I have a baptism to be baptized with … Luke 12:50

 

One could fill a library with the books that have been written about the first two baptisms. In the life of Jesus, our Perfect Example, we find Him being baptized with water by John the Baptist. In quick succession, the Holy Spirit “descend[ed] like a dove, and light[ed] upon him.” It is easy to see two baptisms here; one with water, and the other with the Holy Ghost.

 

But further on in the Gospel story, we see Jesus commenting about a baptism that He had not yet accomplished: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Lu. 12:50

 

It was this baptism that the early Anabaptists called “the third baptism.” Sometimes it was referred to as the “baptism of suffering,” or “the baptism of blood.” This latter term came from 1 John 5:8, which tells us, “And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

 

The “forgotten” baptism

 

This third baptism is largely ignored today. In fact, it has in some cases been replaced with a baptism that is just the opposite of suffering. By this I mean what may well be called a “baptism of blessings.” This so-called “Prosperity Gospel” is what the Apostle Paul called “another gospel” in 2 Corinthians 11:4 and Galatians 1:16. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of “another spirit” and “another Jesus.” So if someone comes preaching a Jesus that does not live and act like the Jesus in the four Gospels, then we need to beware. In connection with the theme of this article, we can easily deduce that whoever does not preach that the disciples of Jesus should follow their Master into His baptism of suffering, it is “another Jesus.” The Jesus that Paul preached told His disciples, “he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” Mt 10:38

 

Yet today we see preachers, famous in this world, telling people about a Jesus that offers them material prosperity. The “proof” is the preacher’s $23,000 toilet, air-conditioned doghouse, or the $20 million dollar jet. So instead of preaching a bloody, painful baptism of suffering, a baptism of material blessings is promised to those who believe in their “Jesus.”

 

I promise you …

 

It would seem that a person who is looking for people to follow him would offer his devotees something better than a lifetime of suffering. How many political candidates would get elected if in his campaign speeches he said, “Hey, vote for me and I promise you that I will lead you into the biggest economic depression this country has seen yet!” Yet, Jesus—the Jesus of the Bible—essentially tells His followers something very close to that. “Follow Me,” He told them. And then He voluntarily allowed Himself to be martyred without the least resistance—and He could have called 10,000 angels if He wanted to!

 

Why suffering?

 

One of the big causes of unbelief that people stumble over concerning the God of the Bible is the question as to how a “good God” can allow evil to happen. How can a supposedly omnipotent [All-powerful] God allow suffering and evil to continue in the world? How could He, who is stronger than Satan, have allowed him to continue for so long? How can it be that a good God allows innocent children to starve?

 

Those are valid questions, ones that I don’t claim to be able to give a complete answer to, other than two points: 1. Man’s choice to sin is the cause of evil in the world, and God allows humanity a free choice. The freedom for a man to choose unrighteousness will affect others around them. Although God sometimes does limit a man from harming others, He does not totally stop sin and its consequences from happening. 2. Suffering is necessary in this world so that the righteous character of God can be made manifest.

 

We will examine the second point in this article.

 

The beginning

 

When Adam chose to disobey God, God was forced to separate from Adam. Adam and his posterity were then left to the whims of their own mind and the temptations of their flesh and those of Satan. By nature—without God’s Spirit within to guide and empower—humans will choose that which serves to bring them the most pleasure. This is the opposite of God’s nature, which is love, the opposite of self-centeredness. Thus man’s fallen state left his character opposed to God’s character. Self and love cannot be mixed, just like oil and water do not mix.

 

When man began to follow his own ways, it was anarchy. In anarchy, every man does that which he thinks best, and this usually translates into doing what brings him the most personal gain and pleasure. So if Bob has 100 acres, but he sees Joe has 200 acres and better cows, Bob plans a midnight raid and kills Joe and takes over his land and cows.

 

We call that “unrighteousness” because it is not morally right, not what God’s character is like. And God’s character is the basis that determines if something is “righteous” or “unrighteous.”

 

Man without God will basically act like an animal, as Ecclesiastes 3:18 tells us: “I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.” So just like a wild animal will fight for its survival, killing one of its own over who gets to eat the prey, man fights and kills and strives for the mastery over his fellow man.

 

Righteous vs. unrighteousness

 

Humanity without God will be unrighteous. As their morals and integrity degrade (which is the natural course for people without God), humans will cheat and hurt and deceive even those who try to help them. Think of those men who will cheat old grandmothers out of their bank accounts and houses, even though the old lady is very kind to them. This is total unrighteousness: returning evil for good.

 

To limit this unrighteousness and help humanity from slipping into total degeneracy, God instituted human governments. These usually form some sort of basic guidelines to help limit the worst forms of unrighteousness, with applicable punishments for those who break the guidelines. The Law of Moses was one of these governments, albeit a special law that also had many types and shadows of the Gospel built into it.

 

These laws did not restore humanity to the fullness of God’s nature and character, but they did try to put a harness on the worst of man’s unrighteous actions. Most governments recognize that murder, stealing, and cheating are wrong and make laws to limit these evils. Basically, instead of evil for good, civil laws say evil for evil and good for good. This means that Bob should not kill Joe for his land and his cows, but if Bob does break the moral code and attack Joe, Joe is allowed to return the evil and defend himself. Most of the civil governments of this world operate on this basis, more or less. Under the threat of punishment, most men can live up to the “evil for evil” standard of righteousness. And of course, it is not hard to return good for good. If Bob invites Joe for a barbecue, Joe may well invite him for some watermelon on a hot day.

 

A kingdom of righteousness

 

Then came the kingdom of God. Jesus began the Gospel message by laying out the righteousness upon which His kingdom would operate. Of course, it would not be unrighteousness: evil for good. But, neither would it be evil for evil, good for good. It was to be a radically new kingdom. Actually, it was simply a return to God’s original intent for man in the Garden of Eden. Christ’s kingdom would be a kingdom based upon the heavenly concept of good for evil! Now, when Joe hears the rumor that Bob is about to attack him and take his land and cows, Joe visits Bob and blesses him.

 

So we see the three “levels” of righteousness:

Total unrighteousness: evil for good. Righteousness by civil law, or human righteousness: evil for evil, good for good. The righteousness of God: good for evil.

Let’s look at a few issues in the light of these three levels of righteousness, starting with war. In total unrighteousness, one nation can attack another for whatever reason. In human righteousness, war is often limited to what may be called “just war”: if one nation does attack another, then the attacked people have a right to fight back. In God’s righteousness, when a people are attacked, they do not fight back, but even bless the attackers.

 

In boundary disputes, total unrighteousness may flare into a shootout if the two parties involved get into an argument. When one side has killed the other, “to the victor go the spoils.” In human righteousness, boundary disputes are taken before a judge, who tries to hear both sides and make a just decision. In the kingdom of God, if one side tries to move the boundary marker illegitimately, the other lets him do so without a fight, and may even tell the offender to take double.

 

Back to suffering

 

What place does a baptism of suffering have in the kingdom of God? The answer is that suffering is the only way in which the righteousness of God can be manifested. One early Anabaptist writer even put it this way: “A man can only be made righteous through suffering.” If you are like me, that little sentence will make you shake your head on the first time reading it. But after contemplation as to what he meant, I began to concur. Let me explain.

 

Jesus told his disciples in Luke 6:32-34 that “if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” In other words, is it really anything extra-ordinary for a man to practice human righteousness? Of course, those who do practice “evil for evil, good for good” can congratulate themselves that they are not like the totally unrighteous person who practices “evil for good.” But Jesus came preaching a higher level of righteousness, the righteousness of God, the righteousness that is inherent to His holy character. He told His disciples in Matthew 5:20, “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

 

The righteousness that the scribes and Pharisees measured themselves with was the Mosaic law. And this law did hold men accountable to a measure of righteousness that was better than total unrighteousness. Poking out a man’s eye for no reason was prohibited. But if someone poked out your eye, you had a right to poke his out: eye for eye. “Evil for evil” was okay in Moses’ law, but “evil for good” was outlawed. Jesus told His followers that if they were going to enter into and live in His kingdom, they had to move beyond the “evil for evil” level of righteousness.

 

Jesus did not leave His disciples in the dark as to some practical applications. He took them through several points of the Mosaic law and lifted the standard up to the righteous character of God, and how that would work out in practical terms.

 

His disciples were a bit taken aback. At one point, they exclaimed, “If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.” It seems they questioned, like many people do, whether it would be possible to live up to the new standard.

 

The role of suffering

 

Let’s contemplate the heavenly kingdom’s standard of righteousness. Jesus said it plainly when He told His followers, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” The Apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 12:21: “Overcome evil with good.”

 

Now, here is the “big” question: how could a man practice the kingdom righteousness of “good for evil,” if there were no evil in this world? If all that was in the world was good, there would be no opportunities for the character of God’s righteousness to fully manifest itself. If there were no unjust (unrighteous) people in the earth, God could never manifest His full righteous character of returning “good for evil.”

 

Obviously, we would all prefer to live in a world in which there was no unrighteousness. But when we ponder this whole point, suddenly we see the “need” for evil. If all were good, there would never be the opportunity to manifest the character of our good God in its fullness. Only when the true righteousness of God confronts evil, and overcomes it by good, can God’s glory shine its brightest. One cannot suffer triumphantly if he never suffers!

 

And so to reveal the glory of God, God had to come into an evil place, a place where He would suffer evil, so that He could practice—make manifest—His righteous character trait of “good for evil.”

 

Thus God came into this world through His Son Jesus to suffer, to triumph over evil by returning good to those who abused Him. His name was glorified through it all.

 

Made righteous through suffering

 

The author of Hebrews tells us that the Messiah, “though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” It is a little hard for us to think of Jesus having to “learn obedience,” but the author continues, saying, “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”

 

That word “perfect” can throw us into a tailspin if we are not careful. The word “perfect” in the KJV usually means “completed,” or “brought to its finished state.” So when Jesus passed through the final “test” of suffering, and “passed the test” by forgiving and returning a blessing on those who had unrighteously treated Him, His obedience was “perfected.” He had proved that He “had what it takes” to always return good for evil. The righteous character of God within Him had triumphed over every temptation. He now had the right to become the “author of eternal salvation.” In Hebrews 2:10, it is written “For it became him [was necessary for Him], for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”

 

An analogy could be like a construction company that is looking for an experienced backhoe operator. When the applicant shows up, they may well take him out back and show him the machine that he will be operating, and say, “Fire it up and dig me a hole over there. I want to see if you can really do this.”

 

God could have planned it somehow that Jesus just stayed in heaven, and then told everyone to believe that it was possible for a man to walk on earth in a human body without sinning. But God “proved” to the world that it was possible. He proved, through His son Jesus, that it is possible to live righteously among unredeemed people, practicing “good for evil” and holiness. He sent Jesus, permitting great abuse to be heaped upon Him, to prove that this Jesus was capable in all circumstances to overcome the evil with good. “It pleased the Lord to bruise him,” (Is. 53:10) because the Father knew the Son would overcome the evil with good. The righteous response of the Son towards the evil inflicted upon Him was a beautiful aroma in the Father’s nose, qualifying Him to be the “author of eternal salvation.”

 

The Lion of the tribe of Judah prevailed over evil, and His blood was taken from Him and sprinkled in the inner sanctuary [spirit] of dead humanity to enliven, purify, and forgive. Whosoever would look upon the victorious Son on the tree could be quickened into a new life of righteousness, by the Holy Spirit.

 

He suffers still

 

But the Messiah still suffers today … in His body. And He still overcomes today … in His body. He is still going through the third baptism, yet today … in His body. His people are still being “baptized” with unrighteous deeds against them, so that the righteousness of God can manifest itself in every generation. Persecutions, banishments, lawsuits, divorces, angry words, abuse, and cursings are still heaped upon the saints.

 

Yes, it still pleases God to “bruise” His people with suffering, because He knows that the beautiful aroma of His righteous character—which He planted in them—will arise from the situation. Just like a crushed flower gives off a greater aroma, so God’s people produce more righteousness when they are “crushed” in suffering.

 

God is not a sadist. He does not enjoy watching people suffer because He enjoys watching twisted faces, looks of despair, and hearing screams of pains. But it is only when we suffer that we can return good for evil. If we never pass through evil circumstances, we could never respond righteously to evil circumstances. Thus it remains the lot of God’s people to suffer.

 

The first letter of Peter is filled with the idea of suffering, and how suffering fits into the Christian life. Although we will not look at all of that letter now, notice one phrase in 1 Peter 3:14: “But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye.” While I would not insist that the following is what Peter meant, let us consider what may be a new way of looking at this sentence. We probably tend to think that Peter is saying that “If you did what was right and got blasted for it, rejoice.” That is certainly true, and may be what Peter intended. But let’s suppose that Peter means, “If God sends you into a situation where you suffer terrible, unjust treatment—just so God can have you respond with “good for evil” righteousness—rejoice!” In other words, God may allow one of your employees to embezzle $50,000 from your business, just so that the world can see you respond like Christ would in the situation. God is “bruising” you to get a sweet odor! And we are supposed to rejoice at the opportunity!

 

There are no opt-out options to the third baptism in the Christian life!     No opt-outs allowed

 

When a man or a woman comes to Christ to be a disciple, no alternative is given to opt out of any of the three baptisms. We definitely need the baptism of the Holy Spirit. How else could we be empowered to live like Christ? We are commanded to go into the whole world, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Our flesh usually has no problem accepting baptism with water or with the Holy Ghost. But it screams in defiance at the third baptism: the baptism of a bloody suffering. There are no little boxes to check off in the “contract” of the New Covenant, that is, a little box that says, “Check here if you would like to opt out of any of the following baptisms.” Entrance into the kingdom is a total surrender of the will to whatever God has in store; we don’t “bargain” with God.

 

Jesus told us we need to count the cost before following Him. He said that we must take up the cross and follow Him. No opt-outs. As we have already seen in this article, the only way that the righteousness of the kingdom of God can manifest itself is when evil happens. Evil must happen, or we cannot overcome it with good.

 

So we must count the cost. If we don’t want to have any suffering in our lives … then don’t even think of becoming a disciple of Jesus! It is true; God may choose some of us to have less suffering, but if we want to conquer unrighteousness, unrighteousness has to happen to us. We cannot overcome bitterness unless we experience a situation that tempts us to hold a grudge. Being treated nicely doesn’t usually tempt us to bitterness, so we must needs experience treatment—a mistreatment—that isn’t so nice!

 

Glorification through suffering

 

Right after Judas left the room on the night before He was crucified, Jesus told His disciples, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.” Jn 13:32

 

When we think of glorifying God, we often think of singing praises or testifying of the great things God has done. While this is one way to glorify God, there is a better way. That way is to manifest God’s character in trying situations. Others looking on will see the righteous response and glorify the Father.

 

Jesus glorified the Father on the cross when He openly revealed that He had something within Him that was stronger than the terrible injustice being done to Him. [He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city … Pr. 16:32] In return, God glorified the Son. It is recorded that when the centurion who was at the crucifixion “saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.” Lu. 23:47

 

Peter, preaching after Pentecost, told the crowd about the glory of the cross: “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go.” The glorification of Jesus happened when He was unjustly crucified and responded with forgiveness.

 

God will also glorify us, if we will accept the suffering in our life and respond righteously. Paul wrote that we are “joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” And in another place Paul expressed the great longing to know God. Not just know about Him, but to really know Him. And in that context, Paul speaks of the role of sufferings in his relationship with Christ, saying, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” Fellowship with Christ consisted of cosuffering with Him. In his letter to Timothy, Paul states that “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” That simply means that if we will take Christ and His power with us into an unjust situation that we are put into, He will give us grace to return good for evil, thus conquering evil. If we let an evil circumstance move us to respond back with evil, evil has conquered us. But when we let Christ move us to respond to evil with good, we have conquered evil.

 

Destroying sin by suffering

 

Peter tells us in his letter, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” 1 Pe. 4:1

 

In 1527, the Anabaptist Leonard Schiemer wrote a letter to the church at Rattenberg, saying, “It is true, Christ’s suffering destroys sin, but only if He suffers in man. For as the water does not quench my thirst unless I drink it, and as the bread does not drive away my hunger unless I eat it, even so Christ’s suffering does not prevent me from sinning until He suffers in me.”[1] When Jesus suffered unrighteous treatment, He “ceased from sin” by not returning evil for evil. In the same way, we can “cease from sin” when we return good for the evil done to us. In this way, sin is destroyed and conquered … by the Christ living in us!

 

One favorite analogy among the early Anabaptists was that of a tree in the woods. That tree is a house; but only a potential house. Only after the tree suffers the pain of the axe and saw, turning the tree into useful boards, is the tree really a house.

 

And so it is with the Christian and righteousness. A child of God, birthed into a new life by a baptism of the Holy Ghost, is a fountain of righteous deeds—or like the tree in the woods, a potential fountain. It is only after the believer has been sawn and shaped by sufferings does his righteous character come to any fruitful use. In this analogy, we can now grasp how the one Anabaptist could write that we can only be made righteous through suffering. We are made righteous when God regenerates us, but that righteousness becomes tangible through our responses to unrighteous actions against us.

 

Fruits of righteousness

 

In 1536, Andres Keller wrote an anguished plea to the lords who had him imprisoned for his faith:

I hope, dear lords, that you will not act rashly against me. I say this not from deceitful motives, but because I do not want you to incriminate yourselves by doing me violence. What good is it to you to reduce me to this miserable condition? I am distressed beyond misery, I am poverty-stricken and robbed of my ability to work, beyond what I could ever overcome in my lifetime [They had tortured him so severely he didn’t think he would ever heal enough to be able to work again.] I have been starved so that I cannot now eat or drink, and my body is broken. How would you like to live for five weeks with only boiled water and unflavored bread soup?

I have been lying in the darkness on straw. All this would not be possible if God had not given me an equal measure of His love. I marvel that I have not become confused or insane. I would have frozen if God had not strengthened me, for you can well imagine how a little bit of hot water will warm one. In addition to this, I suffered great torture twice from the executioner, who has ruined my hands, unless the Lord heals them. I have had enough [torture] to last me the rest of my days.

However, I know that God never forsakes me if I suffer for the sake of his word. I know full well that I have experienced with great pain the Enemy’s temptations against you. May God forgive you and all the dear people who have falsely accused me before you.[2]

Did you catch the righteousness of God manifesting itself? The returning of good for evil, the blessing for cursing? Mangled for life because of false accusations, yet forgiving … that is the righteousness of Christ coming out of suffering! That is the tree being sawn into boards to create a house.

 

Such poignant accounts of suffering should strike us here in North America as to how little we suffer in our time. We think it is “suffering” if we leave our lights on at Walmart and have a dead battery when we get back out to our vehicle. Or, perhaps we rip our dress on the rose bush while we pass.

 

Yet, I know that we all do suffer injustice in some degree. It is part and parcel of life on Earth, and it is a required part of being a disciple of Jesus. People mock us. People steal our goods. People cheat us. Friends turn their back on us. Although the Bible doesn’t clearly say so, I personally believe that God purposely lines Christians up to suffer some of these things, quite on purpose, just to manifest His glory.

 

These are hard things to go through, but if we would just stop and consider the matter, it is the only way that we can clearly manifest the righteous character of God that He has given to us as a great, undeserved gift. And just like the tree needs some working to become useful, we must pass through suffering to produce the full righteousness of Christ.

 

The answer

 

Perhaps it will help us to look upon our future sufferings not as “trials” (which they are), but as opportunities for God to overcome evil with good. When evil is overcome by good, then the kingdom of God has come to earth. Someday, all evil will be banished forever, and the kings of God’s kingdom (those who overcame evil) will be taken to a place where there will never be any more evil to conquer. What a day that will be!

 

But until that time, we must, as Conrad Grebel wrote to Thomas Muntzer, “be baptized in anguish and affliction, tribulation, persecution, suffering, and death. [We] must be tried with fire, and must reach the fatherland of eternal rest, not by killing [our] bodily enemies, but by killing [our] spiritual enemies.”[3]

 

Jesus has told us, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life!” Re. 2:10

 

May the grace of God take you through your third baptism! A crown awaits those who overcome!

 

[1] Walter Klassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline, ((Kitchener, Ont, Scottdale, Pa): Herald Press, 1981), 90-91.

[2] Ibid., 93.

[3] George Huntston Williams and Angel M. Mergal, eds., Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, Ichthus, ((Philadelphia, PA): Westminster, 1957), 80.

 

Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (March/April 2011), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

By Mike Atnip

 

On the market these days is advertised a “special”. BUY ONE STYROFOAM CROSS AND GET A STYROFOAM STONE FREE!! Looking at the promoter of this “special” you will notice that if you are interested you should contact someone at “Discount City Church of God”.

Some years ago a picture appeared in the news of a man in Canada carrying a cross across that broad nation. In an attempt to stir people’s hearts to turn to Christ, this man made himself a large wooden cross and took off dragging it along. After a day or two, he had to make a minor adjustment. The thing dragging along in the dirt was to difficult for him. So he inserted a little wheel on the tail end, and took off again. Someone snapped his picture and it appeared in the news-wheel and all.

A similar situation was recounted to me. Only this time it was in the USA. Someone else had the idea to travel around carrying a cross to provoke others to think of the message of Jesus. But the same problem was encountered. A big old wooden cross is a pretty heavy thing to carry around. So this particular man thought the solution to this problem might be to cut a cross out of Styrofoam. Then he could go!

What these two men encountered was the common dilemma of us all. Jesus’ words to “take up your cross daily, and follow me” are sweet in our mouth. But when they hit the belly they suddenly turn very sour. I mean, a big old wooden cross is a hindrance to the normal daily routine of any man or woman on planet earth. If we could only carry it for an hour a day, we could probably make it. But to take it up from our waking moments? To pick it up immediately means no lazing in bed when there is prayer to be made. At 6:00 in the morning an old splintery cross is a hard thing to pick up. And then, of all things, we are called to take it with us all day long.

In practical terms, the cross means the end of everything in a person’s life that springs out from the first Adam. We need the cross with us every day, all day long, because he constantly calls out for a bit of pity, a bit of mercy for yourself. It does not seem fair, and of course not natural, to be a gazing-stock to the society around us all day long. “Can you not for at least a bit fit in?” Adam pleadingly asks. And if we have dropped our cross somewhere he will not only ask, but demand. And if we have no cross for him to be put on, he will be lord. His commands and desires will be done.

This constant denial and battle is heavy and hard at times. And like the two men mentioned above, we will often try to find some way to escape. Perhaps a wheel, perhaps a piece of Styrofoam.

Styrofoam crosses are pretty nice. They weigh only a fraction of a wooden ones. The nails can easily be pulled in and out. There are no splinters. And further more, they are a whole lot cheaper. “Discount City Church of God” offers them at wholesale price on easily affordable terms. But best of all, they come with a little insertable platform that one can stand on when erected. You do not actually have to die, but you can stand there, and perhaps even have a bit of enjoyment from it. The scenery is often nicer at higher elevations.

The Styrofoam Stone

And the stone. It is described by Mark as being “very great”; so large that three old-time women (tough as they probably were) were questioning among themselves how they could get the thing moved to anoint the body of Jesus. If three women could not move it, could one man, having hung on a cross until blood and water came out just three days before, move it by himself?

This last question is an important one. That “very great” stone represented something. It represented an obstacle to someone claiming the power to resurrect from the dead. If He could rise again, what was a “very great” stone to him. Nothing, of course. And He did prove his power by rising up and walking out, without any human aid. It was a supernatural event.

And so it is in our life. We can claim to be “born again”. “Converted”. “Saved”. “A new creature”. But there is the stone of “human weakness”. Our words do not mean a lot if we are stuck in the tomb. We claim to be risen with Christ, walking in his power, but we cannot seem to get past human weakness? Is there really divine life flowing in our veins? Or, have we really just revived from the life we had previously? Had the stone not been rolled away, and Jesus had been left inside hollering to the groundskeeper, “Help, let me out of here!”, the world could say he had not really died- he just revived from the old life. But the stone was supernaturally rolled away. The power that raised him up was also powerful enough to do what a man could not naturally do by himself. The rolled-back stone is proof.

The merchandisers of Styrofoam crosses have a problem. Styrofoam crosses do not provide the power to move “very great” stones. The natural man cannot do supernatural deeds. So along with the “easy to carry” crosses comes an “easy to move stone”.

Blowing away all my analogies, what do I mean? Just this-

Nobody has to teach a child to sin. Lying, stealing, fighting, whining; all are as natural to a human as it is to a fish to swim. Now, tell a fish to stop swimming. And tell a human to stop sinning. And see which happens first.

For a human to stop sinning, his ego (self-centeredness) has to die. To deny the eyes their desire for beauty does not happen by accident. The lust of the eye keeps us slaving away. “Give me something nice to look at!” he cries. And a man will spend $100 for a snazzy pair of cowboy boots. The desire of the flesh demands, “Give me a good sensation!” And an already over-weight woman buys a 12 pack of Pepsi. “Give me some attention!” says the pride of life. And a grown man makes some silly little comment to draw a laugh. And so we spend our lives for what the Apostle John called “the world”.

Jesus used the metaphor of the cross to explain to us that if we are going to be his disciple, these type of things have to be put out of our life. They will not fall by the wayside by themselves. There has to be a willful decision on our part to say “no” to the natural desire for pretty things, good sensations, and respect. And since these temptations will be with us until we die physically, we need a cross with us all the time. When revenge (the pride of life-someone wounded our reputation) tries to rise up, we need the cross. When boredom tempts us to seek a “good time”, we need a cross.

The Styrofoam cross lets a man have some “good things” and “innocent pleasures” in this life. It tells the young man that having a volleyball game with the prayer meeting does not hurt anything. After all, it is better than smoking marijuana. To the young lady, it says a little outward adornment on her dress does not hurt anybody, just do not be a full-fledged Jezebel. To the robbed man it says, do not demand the fullest penalty, but at least get your stuff back. To the person gossiped about it says do not sue, but at least set the record straight.

We know what Jesus said to all the above. One simple word: DIE! Die to selfish ambition, to pride, to pleasure, to attention, to vain desires; to everything and anything not eternal and spiritual.

Now, tell a man to live his life in this manner here in this world. And tell a fish to stop swimming.

But the cross is not the end. It is a means to something further on. It is the way to a resurrection. Trying to resurrect without going to the cross first is like trying to fill a jar full of dirt with pure water. The dirt has to be put out before the water can stay clean. But emptying the jar of the dirt does not fill it with water. And telling our natural desires “No” does not fill us with good fruits.

And so we need to pass from the cross to the tomb. And from the tomb, we need to get past the “very great” stone of human weakness; the inability to love with a supernatural love. It stands in our way like it is; a cold, heartless, and unhearing barrier to fulfill the will of God. Shout at it we may, command it we may try. But “very great” stones do not move by our good intentions. Grace has to come to our aid.

To refrain from killing our enemies, we need a cross. We can stop the deed, perhaps, by this. But to rise up and truly love them we have to get past the “very great” stone. The young man that has received a smirk for denying himself the adrenaline rush of a ballgame (spending his time in something eternally valuable instead) still has to get past the “very great” stone. He has to love and treat with respect his smirker. For the young lady that has been snickered at for wearing plain dresses and not wearing alluring perfumes, to resurrect means to love and pray for her “moderate” friends, with a humility that smells of myrrh, cinnamon, sweet calamus, cassia, and olive oil (EX 30:23-25). For the robbed man, he needs to forgive and love his neighbor thief, turning the other cheek with meekness. To the one wounded by gossip, getting past the “very great” stone means speaking well of, and to, the gossiper.

In reality, getting past the “very great” stone testifies to the world more than hanging on the cross does. Thousands of people were hung on crosses in Jesus’ day. Only one walked past the “very great” stone. This does not deny the cross. You cannot get past the “very great” stone without first hanging from the cross. You cannot experience the first resurrection without first hanging naked, in open view to all the world, on Mount Calvary. But do not stop at Calvary. And you ask how this “stopping” is done?

In the following centuries after the birth of the New Testament Church, some people went on a course of extreme self-denial. They moved to the desert regions and lived on meager diets of bread and water. On man lived on a pillar for years. They slept on hard beds and denied themselves of many things. They crucified their natural desires. And I admire them for it. It was a good step. But…

The “very great” stone did not move for them. It seems they did not get past the stone. What good fruit did this produce, in terms of “others”? The killing of the natural man is only so the spiritual man can rise again. Putting away evil is so that good may come. Denying myself an ice cream cone is so the next man can have a piece of bread (or, that he can have it instead of me).

Boiled down, the baptism of the Holy Ghost, walking in daily communion with our God, and overflowing with a supernatural love is the end. The cross is a means. An indispensable means. Do not stop until you have walked out of the tomb past the “very great” stone.

Back to the Styrofoam stone. It pushes aside with incredible ease. Anybody can move it. Even just one modern-day woman can move it without taking off her high heels or messing up her long, polished nails. It’s demands are “peanuts” compared to the old heavy ones! With these Styrofoam crosses and stones you can carry the name of Jesus and claim a resurrection with such incredible ease! No need for a young man to put away childish pleasures. No need for a woman to deny her eyes what they want. No need to feel guilty to prosecute a thief. No need to put up with gossip any longer- set the record straight if you want.

“Of course, do not go to extremes in this. But wooden crosses with clenched nails and huge splinters are not in mode. You can carry a Styrofoam cross all day, and not even get tired. And with the accompanying lightweight stone, a “born again” experience is unbelievably easy.” So preaches the “Discount City Church of God”. And then she lifts her voice and sings her siren song:

On a hill far away, stands a Styrofoam cross.

The emblem of a sensible way.

On this cross you may live, and you don’t have to die,

it’s the “new and improved” Christian way.

 

So I’ll cherish my Styrofoam cross.

It does not tire nor hurt me all day.

I will cling to my Styrofoam cross,

and exchange it for a wooden, no way!

The First Resurrection

Do you really want a new life? Do you really want the grace to get past human weakness, the inability to live the sermon on the mount? Friend, the Styrofoam cross and stone will not get you there. The old, heavy, ugly, wooden cross that Jesus died on is the only way to get past the “very great” stone. Take up this cross. Let society and church say what they may. You will be scorned. No matter where you live on planet earth, the wooden cross of Jesus is a reproach to bear. Most times even your church friends will despise you. Carrying a wooden, full-size cross never has been in style. And it never will be.

But if you will use it according to the instruction manual, you will never regret it. It is a means to move “very great” stones. Jesus could not have walked out of Joseph’s tomb had he not died on Calvary. And once you have burst past the “very great” stone to begin living a truly resurrected life here on planet earth, your only regret will be that you did not take your cross sooner. The resurrection is worth the cross. And instead of singing the ode to the Styrofoam cross you can sing with Henry Lyte and the rest who have walked out of the tomb:

Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee;

Destitute, despised, forsaken- Thou from hence my all shalt be.

Perish ev’ry fond ambition, all I’ve sought and hoped and known!

Yet how rich is my condition- God and heav’n are still my own!

 

Let the world despise and leave me, they have left my Saviour too;

Human hearts and looks deceive me- Thou art not, like man, untrue.

And while Thou shalt smile upon me, God of Wisdom, love and might,

Foes may hate, and friends may shun me- show Thy face, and all is bright!

 

Man may trouble and distress me, ’twill but drive me to Thy breast;

Life with trials hard may press me- heav’n will bring me sweeter rest.

O ’tis not in grief to harm me while Thy love is left to me;

O ’twere not in joy to charm me were that joy unmixed with Thee!

 

Haste thee on from grace to glory, armed by faith and winged by prayer;

Heav’ns eternal day’s before thee- God’s own hand shall guide thee there.

Soon shall close thy earthly mission, Swift shall pass thy pilgrim days;

Hope shall change to glad fruition, faith to sight, and prayer to praise!

 

I Live!

After singing this song with the understanding, you will then be able to open your Bible to Galations 2:20 and rejoicingly read, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live”. After a few heartfelt hallelujahs roll out you will then be able to continue, “yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Will you take your cross and follow Him?

By Mike Atnip  

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a farmer’s son who was raising a pig for a 4-H project. Fair time was approaching fast, and Pete (the boy) was having a hard time keeping his pet clean. As all pigs are wont to do, it would instinctively investigate every mud puddle that it happened upon—even immediately after Pete had given him a good scrubbing with firm instructions to stay clean!

Pete knew that he stood no chance of winning the blue ribbon if he took a dirty pig to the show. But try as he might, he could not get his pig to keep himself clean once he had been given a thorough scrubbing. Pete’s only place to keep his pig was in a pen in which one corner stayed dry, but 90% of the pen was a mud hole—much to the pig’s great delight!

Pete schemed for days about his dilemma. How could he save his pig from his own natural instincts? He could put his pig in a strait jacket, but what would the judges think when he arrived at the fair with his pig in a strait jacket? And how could he walk his pig to town in a strait jacket? Oodles of puddles lay in the path to town, and he knew, he just knew, that his pet could never detour a mud puddle!

Finally, the great idea came upon Pete. He noticed that Skimps the kitty hated mud puddles! It would cost the life of his only kitty, but if only …

So he tried it. With a deft operation, Pete managed to take the soul out of the cat and put it into his pig.

How changed the pig was! He still weighed 220 pounds. He still had a snout and a curly tail. He still ate breakfast. But how he hated mud puddles with a passion!

The day of the show came, and Pete walked his pig to the fair. People stared in wonder at the boy and his pig walking down the puddle-filled road. The pig detoured or jumped over every mud puddle, with the amazing agility of a cat!

And so the pig, which had been given a thorough scrubbing some days previously, arrived at the show shining clean. What few spots he had received on the way to the show were promptly licked clean … you know, just like Skimps used to clean himself! By this means, Pete won the blue ribbon. The soul of the kitty in the body of the pig had saved the day!

This parable is by no means perfect. Yet it explains how man can avoid the “mud puddles”of fleshly delights which fill this world we live in. Not by strait jackets, but by a change of character. If we box ourselves out of society by moving to some remote island, we may avoid many temptations. But that is not true freedom. The real freedom comes from having the character of Jesus placed into our hearts by a new birth. When this happens, we will hate sin just like the pig with a kitty heart hated those mud puddles.

Have you been born again? Has the nature of God been restored in you? Although we know that Pete could never put a kitty soul into a pig, we know that God can put Christ within us, thus saving us from our sin.

Hallelujah, what a salvation!

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Pe. 1:4

 

From The Heartbeat of the Remnant (May/June 2010), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

If I asked you, “What is the message of the book of Romans?” what would you say? My guess is most people would answer, “We are saved by grace through faith, not of works.”

Let me ask another question: in Revelation 1:6 and 5:10, we are told that Jesus Christ has made the saints “kings and priests” to God. What does it mean that Jesus made us kings? I would guess that most people would say “we are going to reign on Earth with Jesus during the millennium.”

I am not saying that these answers are completely wrong, but I do believe that there are deeper, more significant answers to these questions. In addition, I believe the book of Romans gives valuable insight into what Revelation means when it says that Jesus “has made us kings.”

Let us go back to the typical answer for the first question. It is true that we are born again by grace by means of faith, not by doing the works of the Mosaic law (Ep. 2:8,9), but what does it mean to be saved “by grace”? What does grace do to save us?

Let us examine Romans 5:12-21:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

What can we learn from this passage? First, we notice that sin and death once reigned over the entire human race. Who was king of my life before I was born again? Sin and death had co-regency over me. Sin reigned over me, forcing me to do its will. Death reigned over me, so that whenever my spirit rebelled against the sin I found in me, death held fast onto me so that I would not have the strength (life) to be able to carry on warfare against sin. Together, they made a powerful tyrannical government that would have dragged me right to hell.

We often talk about the “gospel,” and many people know that the word gospel means “good news.” What is the “good news” for people ruled by the cruel tyrants sin and death? It is found in verse 17: “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ!”

This is the Gospel in a nutshell! Sin and death can be defeated! When I realize that I can by no means overthrow these terrible despots by my own strength (remember, I am dead, after all), but Jesus Christ can overthrow them, then I can receive (by means of faith) “abundance of grace,” the free gift of God apart from which I cannot be saved. How wonderful! Not just a little bit of grace, not just some grace, not a whole lot, not an enormous amount, but abundance! Praise God! Strong’s Concordance defines this word as “surplusage, i.e. superabundance … superfluity.” He gives us so much grace, it is “surplusage,” more than we need!

Not only do we receive the “abundance of grace,” but we also receive “the gift of righteousness.” Grace overcomes death, reviving and resurrecting our spirits. (Did you ever wonder why being saved is called being “born again”?) The gift of righteousness overcomes sin! What is the best way to overcome fire? Usually, with water. What is the best way to overcome sin? With righteousness! In order to dethrone the tyrant sin, God gives us righteousness!

This passage mentions “justification” several times. Many people think justification means to be “declared righteous by God” (sometimes expressed as “just-as-if-I’d never sinned”). Actually, justification means “made (i.e., actually, truly transformed) from an unjust person into a righteous person by God.” The way God gives us the gift of righteousness to overthrow sin is through justification of life, the actual transforming of our dead, sinful lives into righteous ones, made alive by God’s Spirit! Notice that verse 19 tells us that by the obedience of Jesus “shall many be made righteous.” We will be transformed into righteous, holy people!

I think our short little theological statements about being “saved by grace” have missed something—something extremely significant and exciting!

Once the co-regency of sin and death has been overthrown, who reigns now? Again, it is a co-regency. First of all, Jesus Christ is the Head of the church (Ep. 5:23) and should have supreme rule over our lives. If you like to think of it this way, Jesus is the Emperor, but He has appointed a co-regency of two lesser kings to reign over the lives of each believer. Who is the first of these two kings? The first is grace! Verse 21 says, “That as sin hath reigned unto death [sin used to be king …], even so might grace reign [now grace is king!] through righteousness [grace rules our lives through the instrumentality of righteousness and holiness] unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord!” Praise the LORD!

Who is the other king? As surprising as it may seem (it surprised me), the regenerated [i.e., made alive again] believer is king! You may be thinking, “What?!? I rule my own life?” No, not your fleshly, sinful nature, but the real you—the part of you which was made alive when Jesus saved you—now reigns. Yes, Jesus has ordained that the regenerated spirit of the believer is supposed to reign!

Over whom is the believer supposed to reign? Sin! The government of the believer has turned upside down—now I am ruling over sin instead of sin ruling over me. Read verse 17 again: “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ”! Did you catch that? “They” who have received God’s grace and righteousness will reign, and not just reign, but reign in life! Brothers and sisters, we do not have to wait until the second coming of Christ to start reigning! Through Jesus Christ, we reign in this life!

When grace comes in, it reigns in righteousness and makes us reign in life as well over our former tyrant, sin!

Do you now catch a glimpse of how grace saves us? Surely, I do not claim to have plumbed the depths of this glorious mystery—certainly not in this brief article. Nevertheless, I think our short little theological statements about being “saved by grace” have missed something—something extremely significant and exciting! They have missed the glorious truth that when grace comes in, it reigns in righteousness and—ah, the solving of the mystery of being made a king—makes us reign in life as well over our former tyrant, sin! This reigning is not “sinless perfection” where the believer never stumbles or makes a mistake again, but it is a life of victory over sin!

Hallelujah! Brothers and sisters, are you ready to sing with the saints in heaven?

And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. Re. 5:9-10

Are you reigning? If you are not reigning, you are not a king! If you find that you are not a king, put grace on the throne of your life today!

The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold,

the kingdom of God is within you.

(Luke 17:20b-21)

 

From The Heartbeat of the Remnant (March/April 2012), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

By Dean Taylor

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Co. 5:10)

What’s the boldest example of evangelism that you have ever seen? For me, it was when I was fresh out of anesthesia school. I was working in a hospital that employed a lot of foreign medical students and residents. Because of all the students, the operating rooms there were usually bustling with all kinds of people—not just the surgeons and their residents, but the X-ray people had their trainees, the scrub techs had their trainees, the lab techs had theirs, etc … I guess you get the idea—the operating rooms were packed!

  Well, it had been one of my first days on the job there in this teaching hospital. I was just about to administer the anesthesia to put my patient to sleep when he looked up at me and said, “Is this it? Am I going out now?”

  I told him, “Yes, I am about to start the anesthesia.”

  Then he said “Before you do, I want to talk to the main surgeon who will be doing my surgery. I have a question for him.”

  I told the residents nearby, and they quickly ran up to the head of the bed and said that they could answer any questions that he had.

  He asked, “Thank you, but are you the main surgeon?”

  The resident told him he was not the main surgeon—that the main surgeon was in his office and would be coming out soon—but that it would actually be a while before he would get there.

  But the man insisted, “I want to talk to him … I must ask him a question.”

  After trying a few more times, the resident finally gave up and called for the chief surgeon. He was in his office, which was about 10 minutes away.

  As we waited there, I guess we all just figured that this guy simply needed a little reassurance about his surgery. As I recall, I think it was a knee surgery of some kind. I think we all just assumed that he wanted to hear which leg they were planning to operate on—straight from the chief surgeon’s mouth. As time crept by, we each tried to ask him if we could help him with his question. But he was still insistent—he would speak to the head surgeon. It seemed like a long time; but finally, after about 10 long minutes, in rushed the chief surgeon to hear “the question.”

  Now, allow me to describe some of the details of this scene. This patient was lying down on his back on an operating table, with nothing on but a surgical gown. Surrounding him are the surgical techs (who help with the surgery), residents (who also help), x-ray techs, a few drug salesmen, and standing at the head of the bed were me and a Hindu anesthesiologist from India. In my hand was the anesthetic agent needed to put him to sleep.

  As the chief surgeon came around to the head of the bed, the man looked up, pointed his finger at him, and asked “Are you the main surgeon?”

  “Yes, I am sir. How may I help you?”

  “I have a question for you.”

  “Yes sir, what is it?”

  The whole room was dead silent as all waited in suspense to hear what “the question” would be.

  And then, right there—flat on his back on the operating table—with his finger pointing up at the surgeon, he asked the question, “If you were to die tonight, and you had to appear before God, and He asked you why He should let you in—what would you say?”

  The surgeon was speechless … I was speechless … the whole room was speechless! We all just sat there in complete silence! It was one of those attention-grabbing, potentially defining moments, when the silence seemed almost deafening. Then suddenly we were riveted out of the moment by a joke cracked by the Hindu anesthesiologist: “He would say that he took care of you, so then God would let him in!” Everyone had a good laugh and the surgery began.

  Well, I’m still impressed with that scene today. However, while I believe that this is a good question to get someone thinking, I have to wonder if this line of thinking is completely biblical. Of course, the right answer to the question from a solid, born-again believer should be something like, “I trust in nothing but the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. I put my faith in Him, alone. He is all my righteousness and all my salvation.” Good answer, right? I certainly think so.

  But … who said there was going to be an oral exam on Judgment Day? From what I read in Scripture, Judgment Day will be based on the reality of my life here on earth. On that day, it will be revealed whether I lived my life by grace through faith, or not. Quoting a creed or a theological doctrine will be irrelevant.

  It is surprising how regularly this “theology test” scene gets brought up in our thoughts and sermons. I admit, the whole idea is very attractive: Learn the right answers with sincerity and be ready to give them to anyone who asks. So, theoretically, when we get to Judgment Day, instead of worrying about a bunch of do’s and don’ts (or rather did’s and didn’ts), we simply answer the big theological questions and then walk right on in.

  The only problem with this idea is that the Scriptures never mention this scene anywhere. From every indication given to us, on Judgment Day the time for theological answers will be over. Any talking on our part seems to be merely rendering an account of what we did or what we said. The Bible simply describes Jesus judging us based on the reality of our life—not a theology test.

  Judged by works?

Paul said in some pretty clear words that everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. To the Church of Corinth he wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Co. 5:10) Modern Christianity is very quick these days to explain away the whole idea of a Judgment Day—especially for the Christian. But to do so really twists the Scriptures. Jesus repeatedly taught through the Gospels the need for genuine conversions. The theme “You will know them by their fruits” resonates through almost every other chapter. Every picture Jesus gave of a judgment day was inextricably connected to what grace actually did in a believer’s life. A Christianity based solely on mental assent and verbal profession was firmly condemned: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”[1]

  Saved by works?

Does all this mean that we come to Christ through our works? Not at all. When Jesus was asked “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” We cannot save ourselves. The only way to come to Christ is to believe—by faith. However, when this truly happens, the Bible says that we actually change. A few verses down from his sobering statement about Judgment Day, Paul said: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”[2] In other words, when someone—through grace—became a follower of Christ, they actually followed Christ; it’s that simple. As Paul said in the letter to the Ephesians: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”[3]

  James shared the same thoughts when he said “I will show you my faith by my works.”[4] Put simply, James said that the grace-motivated works that Christ performs in and through us are the evidence of our faith. James was asking, “Is your faith real or not?” To James, reciting a creed or a list of theological truths was not evidence. As a matter of fact, James compared a faith that exists only in the mind to the faith that demons have! “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?”[5] Our faith—is it real or is it not? Our faith-motivated works are the evidence now—and they will be the evidence on Judgment Day as well.

  Modern corruption

Like so many other controversial subjects, I have found that when reading books just a few hundred years back, it is amazing to find that preachers on many sides of the theological spectrum are in agreement on this topic. Spurgeon, in his sermon The Great Assize, preached:

  “Ask ye now, who is it, or who ARE THEY THAT WILL HAVE TO APPEAR BEFORE THE THRONE OF JUDGMENT? The answer is plain; it admits of no exemption: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” This is very decisive, if there were no other text. We must all appear; that is to say, every one of the human race. We must all appear. And that the godly will not be exempted from this appearance is very clear, for the apostle here is speaking to Christians. He says, ‘We walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident. We labor.’ and so on; and then he puts it, ‘We must all appear.’ So that, beyond all others, it is certain that all Christians must appear there. The text is quite conclusive upon that point. And if we had not that text, we have the passage in Matthew, which we have read, in which the sheep are summoned there as certainly as are the goats; and the passage in the Revelation, where all the dead are judged according to the things which are written in the books. They are all there.”

  John Wesley, in his sermon also called The Great Assize, said:

  “Had all men a deep sense of this [Judgment Day], how effectually would it secure the interests of society! For what more forcible motive can be conceived to the practice of genuine morality? To a steady pursuit of solid virtue? A uniform walking in justice, mercy, and truth? What could strengthen our hands in all that is good, and deter us from all evil, like a strong conviction of this, “The Judge stands at the door;” and we are shortly to stand before him?”

  Saved by grace—evidenced by works

Speaking on the topic of judgment by works, I thought John Piper put it well when he said, in a sermon preached back in 1980:

  “It is by grace we are saved through faith; not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. But the heart that is full of faith will overflow in attitudes and actions very different from those which flow from unbelief. Therefore, our deeds will testify truly to the genuineness or absence of faith, and it is not inconsistent for God to judge us according to our works. But we must understand that this judgment according to works does not mean we earn our salvation. Our deeds do not earn, they exhibit our salvation. Our deeds are not the merit of our righteousness, they are the mark of our new life in Christ. Our deeds are not sufficient to deserve God’s favor, but they do demonstrate our faith. Please keep that distinction clear in your mind regarding our attitudes and actions: they do not earn, they exhibit; they do not merit, they mark; they do not deserve, they demonstrate. And therefore, “God will render to every man according to his deeds,” including Christians.”[6]

  I like that statement: “they do not earn, they exhibit; they do not merit, they mark; they do not deserve, they demonstrate.” That statement makes you think … if salvation is by faith, and the evidence of that faith is works, then faith must be a lot more than mere theology! Faith must be visible, real, and powerful!

  Send your sins ahead of you

In the last chapter of the Bible Jesus lets us know that on Judgment Day it will be too late to change. “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.” (Re. 22:12)

  Now is the time we can make an eternal difference. Paul told his young disciple Timothy that, “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after.”[7] Likewise, John wrote in his letter to the churches, “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins.”[8] According to the apostles, on Judgment Day the “reality” of whether we confessed and repented of our sins and brought them to Christ will determine whether we will meet Christ as an Advocate or as a Judge. If we repent and bring our sins to Jesus now, He has promised that He will forgive them and even blot them out![9] If we refuse to open up our sins beforehand and “send them on ahead of us to judgment” as Paul put it, then we await a fearful judgment.

  Sins of omission

After the Apostle John gave us this beautiful truth about how to deal with sins in our past, he also reminded us how genuine sin-washed souls will act: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” What a blessing: in Christ we are forgiven—free—and faithful!

  So … if you were to die tonight and you were to appear before God, what would you say? The answer is that you would say nothing except to render an account of your life. The bottom line will be whether you were genuinely saved by grace through faith while here on earth—or—whether you were not. On that day you will bow to Jesus, either as your Advocate[10] or Judge.[11]

  “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25) ~

  ________________________________________ [1] Mt. 7:21 [2] 2 Co. 5:17 [3] Ep. 2:8-10 [4] Ja. 2:18 [5] Ja. 2:19 [6] August 31, 1980 (Morning) Bethlehem Baptist Church. (Emphasis mine) It should be noted that some of Piper’s other teachings take the punch out of what he says here. [7] I Ti. 5:24 [8] I Jn. 2:1-2 [9] Is. 43:25; He. 8:12 [10] “Seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (He. 7:25, and see also 1 Jn. 2:1) [11] “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” (Jn. 5:22)

Judgment Day Theology Test

1. According to Jesus, how can we do the “works of God?”[1] a. Try very hard b. Martyrdom c. Believe on the Sent One 2. According to Jesus, if a person really “believes,” he will:[2] a. Buy a Christian T-shirt b. Learn the answers to important theological questions c. Bear fruit that is evidenced by good works 3. According to Jesus, Judgment Day will be based on:[3] a. Words we tell the Judge b. Works c. Good intentions 4. According to a literal interpretation of the words of Jesus in Matthew 25, if a person spends his whole life making a profession of Christ, all the while considering himself a Christian, but had no concern to feed the poor, clothe the naked, receive a stranger, or visit a prisoner; on Judgment Day that person will:[4] a. Lose a reward b. Have his crown taken away c. Be thankful that he didn’t try to earn his own salvation d. Go into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels 5. Things specifically mentioned by Jesus that we would be judged by on Judgment Day:[5] a. Saying the “sinner’s prayer” b. Church membership c. Baptism d. Feeding the poor 6. According to Jesus, if a person professes Jesus with his mouth, even calling Him “Lord,” but his life isn’t really changed, on Judgment Day that person is:[6] a. Lost b. Saved ________________________________________ [1] (C) Jn. 6:28 [2] (C) Mt. 7:15-27 [3] (B) Re. 22:12. See also Ro. 14:10, 2 Co. 5:10 (To name a few). This includes how we talked on earth: Mt. 12:35-37 [4] (D) Mt. 25:31-46 [5] (D) Mt. 25:31-46 [6] (A) Mt. 7:15-27

Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (January/February 2010), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

By Dean Taylor

Let no man deceive you with vain words. Ephesians 5:6 Certain men crept in unawares . . . turning the grace of God into lasciviousness. Jude 4

The funny thing about a broken clock is that it is perfectly right twice a day. Think about it … that old clock might have been dead for years, but nonetheless, two times a day its little rusty hands proudly proclaim the time as accurately as the space program’s best atomic clock. However, despite this brief momentary accuracy, for all practical purposes a broken clock is still worthless. And that’s a bit the way that salvation is commonly taught and preached these days. It’s often completely right for a moment…but by and large it is still broken.

Here’s what I mean … Modern Evangelicals are quick to point to the fact that to spend eternity with Christ we must be “born again.” In describing this necessity to be “born again,” they often highlight the holiness of God and sinfulness of man. They accentuate the fact that man is helpless to save himself and therefore totally at the mercy of God for grace and forgiveness.

Now, this is all very appropriate and even “accurate.” But much like the broken clock that is accurate only for a moment, this is usually where modern Evangelical salvation stops. It started out good, but it didn’t keep going. The result is a salvation that is reduced to a “decision” or a “prayer”—not a new life. Explanations of salvation like these can leave the sinner standing there “broken” without a ticking heart. When salvation is explained this way the results can be devastating. Even the most sincere “walk down the aisle” or the most passionate “sinner’s prayer” is no substitute for Jesus’ words, “take up your cross daily and follow me.” Christianity is a life—not a one-time decision.

The Mass Murderer Goes to Heaven?

A few weeks ago the nation mourned over the news of yet one more homicidal catastrophe. This time a man named George Sodini from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania went into his sports gym with a loaded hand gun and savagely ended the lives of three women and injured nine others. Completing this fit of terror, the deranged killer finally turned the gun on himself and ended his own life as well.

Unfortunately, this type of tragedy is not unheard of on the landscape of modern America. What caught my attention in this case was that the killer left a journal. In his journal the killer mentioned the philosophy that enabled him to perform these terrible atrocities.

Aghast when I read it, I saw that Sodini claimed that his philosophy was the philosophy of modern American Evangelicalism—brought to its logical end.

The Journal

 

Writing a year before the murders, George Sodini wrote in his journal about his involvement in church. Speaking about the pastor of the church he attended for 13 years he said, “this guy teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven.”

Those words are chilling when you consider the consequences.

Skipping up a year to the day before the murder, George Sodini left what I consider his most disturbing journal entry. Most disturbing, because in this entry, Sodini articulated a modern American statement of faith—all too well. (The capital letters are all from Sodini’s own words):

“Maybe soon, I will see God and Jesus. At least that is what I was told. Eternal life does NOT depend on works. If it did, we will all be in hell. Christ paid for EVERY sin, so how can I or you be judged BY GOD for a sin when the penalty was ALREADY paid. People judge but that does not matter. I was reading the Bible and The Integrity of God beginning yesterday, because soon I will see them.”

Disclaimer

Sodini’s case—I admit—is certainly extreme. The man was obviously disturbed. A reading of the rest of his journal demonstrates clearly that he was a troubled man. So to put the blame entirely on modern American Evangelicalism would seem a bit unfair.

But yet I wonder … could it have been different if Sodini would have been taught a fear of God rather than a license to sin? Could it have been different if he would have been told that a despicable lifestyle actually matters to God? Could it all have been different if he had been taught that a sincere faith demands a response toward God in the way of amended life? And most important to this discussion, I wonder…was Sodini’s response solely a twisted mind, or was it rather an extreme application of a bad theology, taken to its logical end?

“At least that is what I was told…”

What exactly did Sodini mean when he attempted to justify his innocence before God—even while intending to commit mass murder—adding “at least that is what I was told”? • Who told George Sodini that a person could kill someone and not “lose their salvation”? • Who told George Sodini that faith existed only in mental beliefs? • Who told George Sodini that his actions did not matter to God? • Who told George Sodini that “grace” was some kind of blanket forgiveness policy? • Who came up with this strange doctrine? If this was the teaching of some obscure cult somewhere in the world, it would have been bad enough. But tragically, what Sodini articulated in his journal—and ultimately put to practice in his life—is a theology that is proclaimed across tens of thousands of pulpits every day.

Where did this start?

 

During the Reformation of the 1500s, Martin Luther stood strong against the ceremonial-works religion of the Roman Catholics. The ideas of buying your way to heaven, praying to saints, and making pilgrimages to holy sites to earn your salvation were commonplace in his day. Luther fought against these things by arguing that salvation was “by grace through faith.” However, as often happens during times of debate, Luther reacted. He went from saying that salvation could not be obtained by works, to saying that works didn’t matter at all. By doing this, Luther made “faith” a purely mental concept. “Actions”, or rather “works of faith”, were seen by Luther as nonessentials.

Too Far

While I believe that Luther meant well, like the Gnostics of the early church before him he ultimately masterminded a Christianity that exists only in the mind. To be fair to Luther, he did at times teach that this mental faith should find its way to action. However, when it was all said and done, lifestyle to Luther was a mere bonus. Following Christ meant right thoughts about Christ, not actually following Christ in reality.

To give a graphic example of what I mean, concluding his thoughts in a revealing letter to a fellow minister, Luther said:

“No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner. “[1]

I think that very few Evangelicals today would ever say this kind of thing with such candor. But when I ponder the twisted faith of this mass killer George Sodini, what am I to think when I read Martin Luther’s words that a person cannot lose his salvation “even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day”?

Partial Truth

The scriptures plainly teach that we are saved “by grace through faith.” No self-respecting Christian argues that point. The problem comes by the fact that Luther and many others after him have redefined the terms. The terms “grace” and “faith” no longer mean what they used to. Today, “grace” is basically defined as forgiveness. Some may stretch it and use the phrase “unmerited favor,” but still at the end of the day, what they usually mean by that is simply forgiveness. The term “faith” has been tragically reduced to mean a mere mental assent to specific facts about God.

The Power of Grace

The Apostle Paul provided a nice balance when he wrote to the church at Ephesus about salvation. Warning about the danger of trusting in mere works to save them he said: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast…” [2] But then continuing the sentence, he went right on to say: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. [3] For Paul, salvation had a purpose. It was alive. It did something! Paul was passionate about what grace actually did in the life of the believer. When writing to his young disciple Titus, Paul spelled out a few of the things that he believed grace should accomplish. Pay close attention to what Paul told Titus that grace teaches us …

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee. “[4]

Those are some powerful things that grace actually does. Much more than just forgiveness—grace is power!

Follow Me

In demonstrating what Christianity should be like, Jesus called a little child to him. He put the child in the middle of the crowd and said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. ” [5]

Apparently, Jesus regarded the theology of salvation as something very simple. So simple, that He said that we would need to be like little children in order to grasp it. I used to think that this simply meant that we needed to be pure-minded, innocent, loving, and carefree like children are. But that was before I had children of my own! And while I think that those qualities of childlikeness certainly are part of it, I think that there is more to the story—and this is it: children follow.

Children follow the good things I do, and unfortunately, they also follow the bad. As a matter of fact, I have found that I can “teach” them all I want, but what really affects their behavior is how I act. Children don’t see life in nuances of dogmas, creeds, theologies, algorithms, and flow charts. They simply watch, hear—and follow.

When I consider the conversion stories in the Gospels, I see the same thing. Jesus’ evangelism strategy was so simple that it was profound. More often than not, Jesus simply used two words—“follow Me.” While those two words may be easy to say, they’re not at all easy to practice. As a matter of fact, in my own strength, they’re impossible. When I am confronted with this overwhelmingly simple command to “follow Christ,” I would be foolish to think that I could accomplish this in the power of my flesh. When I have tried to do this, I have fallen flat on my face.

Bussfertigkeit—Living Faith

In the early days of the 16th-century Radical Reformation, the topic of salvation was one of many issues that were taking center stage. The Anabaptists liked much of what they were hearing from the early Reformers such as Luther and Zwingli, but they soon noticed that something vitally important was missing. Like the broken clock, they saw that the salvation that Luther and Zwingli were preaching sounded good, but only for a moment. It was too often merely doctrinal, legal, or creedal: in essence, not alive.

The Anabaptists saw that humility before a holy God and thirst for God’s salvation was not just a momentary thing like joining the church, saying a prayer, or even walking an aisle—it was a way of life. To be saved by grace presupposed a continual life of living faith. The early Anabaptists felt salvation must go further than the head. They expected more from salvation than just new ideas and theology. The following letter from an early Anabaptist, struggling about his time among the Evangelicals of the 1500s, gives a glimpse of their position. He wrote:

“While yet in the national church, we obtained much instruction from the writings of Luther, Zwingli, and others, concerning the mass and other papal ceremonies, that they are vain. Yet we recognized a great lack as regards repentance, conversion, and the true Christian life. Upon these things my mind was bent. I waited and hoped for a year or two, since the minister had much to say of amendment of life, of giving to the poor, loving one another, and abstaining from evil. But I could not close my eyes to the fact that the doctrine which was preached and which was based on the Word of God, was not carried out. No beginning was made toward true Christian living, and there was no unison in the teaching concerning the things that were necessary.

“And although the mass and the images were finally abolished, true repentance and Christian love were not in evidence. Changes were made only as concerned external things. This gave me occasion to inquire further into these matters. Then God sent His messengers, Conrad Grebel and others, with whom I conferred about the fundamental teachings of the apostles and the Christian life and practice. I found them men who had surrendered themselves to the doctrine of Christ by “Bussfertigkeit” [repentance evidenced by fruits]. With their assistance we established a congregation in which repentance was in evidence by newness of life in Christ. “[6]

A changed life was the gift they saw promised to them in the scriptures, and by faith these Radicals would settle for nothing less. That’s not to say that the Radical Reformers believed in a salvation by works either. They felt that any work done for Christ must be a work of faith and charity; empty works were still empty works.

As could be expected, this emphasis on a changed life quickly opened them up to the criticism that they were trying to earn their own salvation—a claim they quickly and adamantly denied. When it came to “salvation by faith,” they warned that error lies on both sides of the debate.

Beware of the Scribes and the Pharisees

In a beautifully worded warning from one of the founders of the Radical Reformation, Michael Sattler cautioned that Christians must beware of both the Scribes and the Pharisees. The “Pharisees”, Sattler taught, typified the type of faith that they had when they were Roman Catholics. He said that just like the Pharisees of the Bible, the Roman Catholics were trying to earn their salvation by works of the Law. Therefore he cautioned that we must beware of this tendency to endeavor to earn our own salvation. On the other hand, Sattler warned that the “Scribes” typified the Evangelicals. He gave the picture that Scribes teach beautiful things, write impressive books, and even preach magnificent sermons. However, like the Scribes of old, their salvation never penetrates into their lives. In other words, the Scribes spoke good things, but did not live them. “We must” Michael Sattler warned, “beware the Scribes and the Pharisees. ” [7]

Empty works are still empty works. And any works that we think will replace or add to the work of Christ are still worthless. But to separate mental faith from acts of faith is to completely miss the message of the whole Bible. From beginning to end, the Bible is full of stories of visible, touchable, workable, sweatable, bleedable faith.

The Epistle of Straw

The book of James plainly said that “Faith without works is dead.” So why is that statement so controversial? James did not say that our works added to the merits of Christ’s atoning work. James simply said that faithful actions are evident demonstrations of our faith. It is interesting to note that the “works” James mentioned in Chapter 2 are not works from the Old Testament Law, such as circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, or dietary regulations. Rather, the works that James mentioned were fruits that a person evidenced when he has genuine faith.

For instance, James describes the “works” of Abraham as the actions Abraham did when he was willing to sacrifice his son on the altar. This was not Abraham trusting in himself, rather, this was an act of faith. After mentioning Abraham’s touching story, James tried to persuade us to understand this sacred truth saying:

“Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (James 2:22-24)

Why is this so scary to Evangelicals? Probably because this verse makes it absolutely clear that faith is something more than ideas and convictions in your head. Faith includes your body—your actions—or if I may use the word—your works. To dismiss the clarity of these statements, Martin Luther had the audacity to call the entire Epistle of James “An epistle of straw.” That should tell us something … frankly, it scares me.

You must be born again

 

None of these things can be accomplished by fakers. There is no shortcut to heaven. Empty works are no better than empty faith. So … • If we are actually going to honor the name of God, • If we are going to please Him and glorify Him with our lives, • If we are going to follow in Jesus’ great big steps, … then we must be born again.

New Wine—New Wineskins

Near the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus gave His charge to Matthew the tax collector and other sinners who were at Matthew’s house with those challenging words: “follow me.” [8] Right after this however, Mark recorded Jesus’ parable about becoming a new creation in the parable of old cloth and old wine skins.

“No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.” (Mark 2:21-22).

In other words, the Christ-following life is not something that you can just tack on to your old life. That’s not going to work. If you do try, it will break.

Repent

Jesus used the word “repent.” That means completely changing the way I want to go, and following His way. That’s more than just a little decision or a “sinner’s prayer”—that’s becoming a whole new creation. If I try to tack Christianity on to my nonrepentant old lifestyle—like the unshrunk cloth or old wineskin—it’s going to rip and burst!

When being a follower of Christ actually means to follow Christ, what an exciting life awaits! Just two words say it all —“follow Me.” That’s a living faith. That’s a salvation that is not just in my head—it’s real in my life—a ticking clock!

[1] Let Your Sins Be Strong: A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521, From the Wartburg (Segment) Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores from: _Dr. Martin Luther’s Saemmtliche Schriften_ Dr, Johannes Georg Walch, Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15,cols. 2585-2590. [2] Ephesians 2:8-9 [3] Ephesians 2:10 [4] Titus 2:11-15 [5] Matthew 18:1-4 [6] Taken from an unpublished manuscript in the Staatsarchiv des Kantons Bern, (Unnütze Papiere, Bd. 80), entitled Acta des Gesprächs zw¨schenn predicannten und Touffbrüderenn (1538), Copy in the Goshen College Library. [7] The Legacy Of Michael Sattler p. 115-116. [8] Mark 2:14

Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (July/August/September 2009), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.

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