Archive for the ‘The Bible’ Category

by

In:Matthew, Salvation and the New Birth, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on The Beatitudes: The Values of the Kingdom of Heaven

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

“And seeing the multitudes, he 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.”  Matthew 5:1-12 Authorized Version

 

The Sermon on the Mount is undoubtedly the most influential sermon ever preached – and rightly so, considering that it was preached by God Himself.  This sermon is the largest single collection of Jesus’ Kingdom commandments and teachings in one place in the Gospels, although by no means the only one.

 

Jesus began the Sermon with the beatitudes, which reveal attitudes of heart and life which God values.  The values which God has and which He has designed His Kingdom to work around are very different from the values of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  The regenerated Christian is to have the same system of values which God has, for we are to have the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5).

 

The first attribute which God values and blesses is humility – “poor in spirit.”  Humility is necessary if we are to have salvation.  The proud man cannot come to God and beg for his soul.  It takes humility to do that.  Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).

 

The next is mourning.  The world places little value on mourning; it values parties, merry-making, pleasure-seeking, and fun.  But there is a time to mourn, and those who mourn in season are blessed by God.

 

God also values meekness.  Webster defines meekness, “Softness of temper; mildness; gentleness; forbearance under injuries and provocations…humility; resignation; submission to the divine will, without murmuring or peevishness.”  The kings, emperors, and conquerors of this world, who fought with weapons of force to get what they wanted, have all passed away sooner or later – but the meek and peaceable Kingdom of God has endured through the centuries.  When all the warriors of this world are forgotten, the meek will still exist and will inherit the earth.

 

God also values a longing after righteousness.  The world wants nothing to do with righteousness, and calls it “intolerance.”  The apostate church wants nothing to do with righteousness, and calls it “legalism.”  But those who hunger and thirst after righteousness have the wonderful promise of God that they will be filled.

 

The merciful are valued by God, although the world prefers to think “he is getting what he deserves.”  The Godly man, motivated by mercy, gives aid to all.

 

Purity is valued highly by God.  God Himself is pure and holy, and would have His people to be as well.  The Apostle James tells us that part of the duty of pure religion is “to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

 

Peacemakers are valued in God’s Kingdom.  While the world prefers people who are pushy and get what they want by force, God values people who are willing to bring reconciliation and peace into highly charged situations.  Those who make peace imitate the Lord Jesus, Who “made peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

 

Finally, God values those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness and the sake of His Son.  When we are persecuted, we have the opportunity to show the character of our Heavenly Father to the fallen world by loving and forgiving our enemies.  This is exactly what Jesus did on the cross when He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

 

God will grant grace to live in a way which conforms to the value system of His Kingdom.  “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).

 

Originally published in The Witness, April 2013.

by

In:Matthew, Salvation and the New Birth, Sin, The Kingdom of God

Comments Off on Repentance: Jesus’ First Sermon

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

“Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.  From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Matthew 4:12-17 Authorized Version

 

After His baptism and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus began His public ministry with this short and simple sermon: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Despite the fact that this is the message which Jesus preached, some today believe that repentance is not a part of the Gospel and is unnecessary for us today.  However, throughout the New Testament, repentance is given as a condition of salvation and a part of God’s message to men.

 

After Jesus sent them out to preach, the twelve disciples “went out, and preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12).  Jesus taught that “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).  After His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples that repentance was part of the message which He wanted to be preached throughout all nations: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).  On the day of Pentecost, when asked by the crowd what they should do, “Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).  On a later occasion, Peter said: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

 

Paul also preached repentance.  Acts 17:30 says, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent”.  Speaking to the elders at Ephesus, Paul said that while he was with them he had spent his time “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).  When standing trial before King Agrippa, Paul described his message this way: “But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20).

 

Some say that we are only required to repent from the single sin of unbelief.  While it is true that we must repent of unbelief, that is not the only sin we must repent from.  We must repent of our deeds (Revelation 16:11), of our sins (Revelation 9:21), of the sinful works of our hands and idolatry (Revelation 9:20), from dead works (Hebrews 6:1), of uncleanness (II Corinthians 12:21), and of wickedness (Acts 8:22).

 

Some may think that repentance is a dreary responsibility – laying aside sins and habits so dearly enjoyed.  This is not how repentance works!  The “goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Romans 2:4b) – it is an act of love and goodness on God’s part to bring a person to a place of repentance.  God has meant people to live in holiness and a relationship with Him, not in sin!  Repentance may seem burdensome or even impossible, but after you have repented, you will not regret it.  I have never met someone who has said, “I wish I had never repented.  That was a foolish decision.”  Turning from sin and to God is always a good decision because that is how God meant life to be.

 

 “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:26).

 

Originally published in The Witness, March 2013.

by

In:Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Salvation and the New Birth

Comments Off on A New Covenant

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jeremiah 31:31-33

 

“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. But as for them whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord GOD.” Ezekiel 11:19-21

 

In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, God established the Old or Mosaic Covenant – the Law – with the children of Israel. Most Bible readers will be quite aware of the fact that this law was not kept by the children of Israel to whom it was given. After the giving of the Ten Commandments when Moses went up Mount Sinai for forty days, the children of Israel – under the leadership of Aaron – broke the commandments they had just been given, indulging in idolatry and adultery. Moses came down the mountain and, seeing what they were doing, broke the two stone tablets which God had given him on the mountain. The children of Israel had broken the covenant which had not even been completely given at that time.

  This was not an isolated incident. The Hebrews throughout the time of the Old Testament continued to break the covenant again and again. As a nation they would rebel against God, worship idols, and live in sin. The covenant God had made with them was broken.

  It was not God’s fault that the covenant He had made “holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12) was broken, but through the Prophet Jeremiah, He promised a New Covenant and a fresh start. This New Covenant would be made with the houses of Israel and Judah; everyone who voluntarily places himself under this New Covenant is grafted into the olive tree of Israel, from which all of the unbelieving and disobedient Jews have been cut off until such time as they repent (Romans 11:17-25). We notice next in this passage that this covenant would be “not according to the covenant that I made” before. How would this covenant be different? In the Old Covenant, God made lists of laws which were written on stone tablets and on paper. It was the job of the priests to make sure that the people knew the laws so that they could be kept. This New Covenant, however, would be different in that God would “put [His] law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts”. This does not mean that the New Covenant would not have written laws, but that those laws would be stamped thoroughly on the heart of the people who had accepted the New Covenant – written on their hearts so that they would obey God out of love and because it was an inner conviction to do so, not because they were compelled to.

  The Prophet Ezekiel gives more information about this then-future time when the New Covenant would be made. He says that the people under this covenant would be given “one heart”. How can many people be given one heart? The answer is found in II Peter 1:4, where we are informed that this “new heart” is none other than God’s heart: “that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature”. God would impart His own Heart (Spirit) to His people! This is how they can share one heart and how His laws can be written upon our hearts. If we have God’s own heart within us, we will naturally desire and actually do the things which God wants us to!

  God, through Ezekiel, goes on to say that He would remove the old, stony hearts and give hearts of flesh – warm, soft, living, and active. The purpose and result of this “heavenly heart surgery” is seen in verse 20: “That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them”. The problem with the Mosaic Law was not its requirements, although they were lower than God’s ultimate requirements. The problem was that laws, in and of themselves, have no power to give life. Any law is simply a mirror. By that mirror, a man can see whether he is measuring up to the standard or not. A simple example is a speed limit sign. If a man drives past a speed limit sign, he can look at his speedometer, look at the sign, and see the requirement of the law and whether he is living up to it or not. But the speed limit sign has no ability to make the driver tap the brakes to slow down and bring himself into conformity with the law. The same is true of the Law of Moses. The Law made demands on peoples’ lives and could be used as a mirror for an individual to evaluate how he compared with what God had commanded. But there was no “life clause” in the Law to provide the power to be able to keep the standard of righteousness which was given! “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8).

  The New Covenant, on the other hand, has higher requirements than the Mosaic Covenant did. If the children of Israel for thousands of years failed to live up to the requirements of the Mosaic Law, how could anyone possibly hope to hold to an even higher standard? The biggest difference between the two covenants is summed up in one word: life. The dead human spirit cannot keep God’s standard of righteousness – not even the Mosaic standard. Death and sin rule over the unregenerated soul, keeping it in bondage to disobedience and rebellion against God (Romans 5:12-21). Nevertheless, in the spiritual operation called the New Birth, Jesus Christ will impart the promised “heart of flesh,” full of the heavenly life of God Himself, filled with the Law of God, and which overthrows the devilish reign of Sin and Death. The result of this miracle is called VICTORY, and the response of the new saint is PRAISE! Hallelujah for the New Covenant!

  Practical Application: Many practical applications might be drawn from these passages and the principles discussed, but I would like to focus on one in particular. Jeremiah tells us that God would write His laws on the hearts of those who accept the New Covenant. It is possible to obey the laws of the New Covenant (the commands of Jesus and the Apostles), at least in outward form, without having them written on the heart. How is it possible to discern if these laws are written on one’s heart? We normally call something written on one’s heart a “conviction.” Anything not done out of conviction is not written on one’s heart. If you find yourself in doubt, ask yourself the following questions: do I obey some principle of the New Covenant (for instance, separation from the world, the woman’s head covering, or nonresistance) simply because it is what the church expects? Or because it is what my parents expect? Or because if I did not, I would suffer negative social consequences among the people in my congregation(s)? Do I love to find some way to be “borderline” from what the New Testament requires – i.e., just on the edge of disobedience? If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then I beg you to examine yourself in the light of God’s Word and ask yourself if you truly are under the New Covenant or are under the Old Law of outward compulsion. Then go to God and ask Him for the New Heart, filled with the Law of God, which will make one delight in doing His Will!

 

Originally published in The Witness, November 2012.

By Andrew V. Ste. Marie

 

News agencies and Internet bloggers pounced on the news of a new “gospel” unveiled at a conference in Rome recently. The fragment, dubbed the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” allegedly mentions Jesus as being married.

  Finding spurious gospels is not new. Along with the four canonical Gospels giving accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, pseudo-Christian groups in the first centuries of the church (most notably the Gnostics) produced their own “holy writings,” including The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, The Acts of Peter, etc. Of course, the books were not actually written by the people they were named for.

  This new “gospel” is not a complete work at all – rather it is a tiny scrap of papyrus with eight partial lines of text on one side and a few words on the other. What is so exciting about it? Lines 3-5 read, “deny. Mary is [?not] worthy of it…Jesus said to them, ‘my wife…she will be able to be my disciple.” Several secular news agencies are taking this as “evidence” that Jesus Christ was married and hyping the fragment intensely. Although it is simply a scrap, it was given the name “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”

  In the midst of the excitement, it is good to keep the following points in mind:

 

1. There is essentially no context at all for the statement about the “wife”. We have no idea what the Jesus character in the text was saying. What if the original (complete) text said, “My wife is the church, whom I shall take to Heaven to be where I am.” It is a possibility! 2. The dating of the fragment is quite uncertain, but the scholar who announced it has tentatively dated the text (not the fragment) to the second century A.D. The fragment itself she believes to be from the fourth century. Obviously, the canonical gospels, which were written in the first century by people who knew Jesus personally or (as in the case of Mark and Luke) knew those who knew Jesus, are more reliable than this undated, unattributed scrap even from a secular viewpoint. 3. Very few scholars are willing at this point to vouch for the authenticity of the text. Many are strongly suspicious that it is a modern forgery; some are absolutely convinced that it is. Even Prof. Karen King, who unveiled the fragment, admitted to having doubts about its authenticity. Some have questioned why the scrap is a perfect rectangle. Might someone have found it as part of a larger text and cut out the small piece – perhaps because the broader context gave information about what the “wife” comment meant which made it sound less sensational? 4. Even if the scrap is genuinely ancient (mid-2nd century, as Prof. King suggested) and is suggesting that Jesus was married (in a literal sense), that does not mean that the real Jesus actually was married. It only means that one author who wrote this document may have believed that Jesus was married. (For all we know, the author may have been disputing such an idea or simply making some scribblings for his own amusement.) Prof. King wrote that the text “does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married, given the late date of the fragment and the probable date of original composition only in the second half of the second century.”

 

Need this new scrap shake anyone’s faith in what the Biblical Gospels say about Jesus’ life? No. Its late date and lack of context make it essentially worthless even from a secular viewpoint in telling us anything about Jesus’ life. Those who have experienced the power of Jesus in their lives personally need not let any evidence shake them away from their own experiential knowledge of the truth of the Bible.

 

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek”

Romans 1:16

Sources

Holy Bible, Authorized Version

There is an enormous amount of discussion of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife online. Here are a few main references:

1. Henry B. Smith, Jr., “Brief Reflections on the So-Called ‘Jesus Wife’ Fragment,” http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2012/09/24/Brief-Reflections-on-the-So-Called-Jesus-Wife-Fragment.aspx (Accessed September 27, 2012)

2. Tim Chaffey, “Was Jesus Married?,” http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2012/09/21/feedback-was-jesus-married (Accessed September 27, 2012)

3. Karen L. King & AnneMarie Luijendijk, “ ‘Jesus said to them, “My wife…”’ A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus,” draft of paper submitted to Harvard Theological Review, http://www.hds.harvard.edu/sites/hds.harvard.edu/files/attachments/faculty-research/research-projects/the-gospel-of-jesuss-wife/29865/King_JesusSaidToThem_draft_0920.pdf

4. Lillian Kwon, “ ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ Historian Admits to Having Doubts About Authenticity,” http://www.christianpost.com/news/gospel-of-jesus-wife-historian-admits-to-having-doubts-about-authenticity-82229/ (Accessed September 27, 2012)

By Barbara Ste. Marie

“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:5).

 

Rahab was a woman from Jericho. She had a home on the wall of the city and her whole family lived in the city as well. Life probably seemed good to her, until the city heard of the mighty deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt by the Lord God. Let us read the portion about Rahab from the account of the taking of Jericho.

 

“And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there. And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in hither to night of the children of Israel to search out the country. And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country. And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were: And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them. But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof. And the men pursued after them the way to Jordan unto the fords: and as soon as they which pursued after them were gone out, they shut the gate. And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof; And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath. Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token: And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death. And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the LORD hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee. Then she let them down by a cord through the window: for her house was upon the town wall, and she dwelt upon the wall. And she said unto them, Get you to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you; and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers be returned: and afterward may ye go your way. And the men said unto her, We will be blameless of this thine oath which thou hast made us swear. Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household, home unto thee. And it shall be, that whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we will be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him. And if thou utter this our business, then we will be quit of thine oath which thou hast made us to swear. And she said, According unto your words, so be it. And she sent them away, and they departed: and she bound the scarlet line in the window. And they went, and came unto the mountain, and abode there three days, until the pursuers were returned: and the pursuers sought them throughout all the way, but found them not. So the two men returned, and descended from the mountain, and passed over, and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and told him all things that befell them: And they said unto Joshua, Truly the LORD hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us” (Joshua 2:1-24).

 

Rahab was living an independent, worldly, do as you please lifestyle. She was living in open sin. All was good until the news of the Israelites coming to conquer Jericho was spread throughout the city. Still this would not have been such terrible news; they had their own mighty men to protect the city and the city walls were tall and broad. Wide enough to have houses built on top: Rahab’s own house was atop the wall. This news would not have been horrifying enough to make their hearts melt with fear and drain the courage from the men and make them faint, but for the fact of Israel’s God.

  The inhabitants of Jericho had heard of the deliverance from Egypt, how the Lord God dried up the Red Sea for their passage through, then released the waters and destroyed all of Pharaoh’s armies; how the Lord gave them victory over the Amorite kings on the other side of the Jordan River; how the Lord kept and prepared them in the wilderness. They heard of the power of the Almighty Lord.

  Rahab heard all of this too, and she took it into her heart. This news changed her – changed her whole life. Hebrews 11:31 says “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.”

  Rahab had faith in Israel’s God. She had true living faith, faith that made her risk her own life for the spies from Israel. She took them in, hid them, lied about their whereabouts, and after speaking with them sent them away in another direction.

  Rahab could have been overwhelmed by fear, like the rest of the people of Jericho. She could have turned over the spies to the king’s men to try to stop what was coming, but she saw the One True Living God. She had not seen His mighty acts with her eyes but she “saw” them clearly with her heart of faith. She abandoned whatever gods her people had and whatever they would expect her to do, to serve the Living God by hiding the spies. Rahab then asked them to promise by the Lord that they would save her father’s household. They swore they would save her and her father’s house, and Rahab gathered her family into her house on the wall and bound the scarlet thread in the window as a sign. She had faith that even though destruction would come, she would be saved and even her relatives with her.

 

“And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho” (Joshua 6:24-25).

 

Rahab had a living faith, a faith that makes one do things they never would have done before, trusting and believing in God’s power and direction, a faith that causes people to leave the world and surrender to God’s will.

  Rahab loved the Lord the rest of her life while dwelling in Israel and her reward here on earth was to bring forth a son in the line of the Messiah (Matthew 1:5).

  Rahab’s faith changed her. James 2:24-26 says “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Rahab’s faith allowed her to hide the spies and send them out another way because she trusted God and put her life in His Hands.

  A natural outpouring of her faith was to do good to His people. She did not just believe with her mind and then go about her worldly life, living the same but thinking “I will be saved from the destruction to come.”

  Let us remember the actions of Rahab and ask ourselves, has my faith changed me? Have I seen God’s mighty works through the eyes of faith? Do I have faith in action? Is my faith dead (without the Spirit) or alive unto good works?

 

“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

 

Originally published in The Witness 10(7) (July 2012)

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 Daniel Beachy

 

The church at Ephesus had many good works, they had much knowledge, but they had left the first love. How do we leave our first love? It seems we too easily get the idea we’ve lost our first love and don’t know how to find it. The way it really happens is we choose what will be our first love. It’s not lost; but left. Not forgotten, but forsaken.

 

It’s like a man walking alone carrying a burden for one he loves with all his heart. As he journeys towards his destination, he sees another bundle containing gold, silver, and other valuables. “Well (he may say), I can’t carry both bundles very far, but this looks like a good thing, this will allow me to live more comfortably. I will try it once.” And so he goes on for a while until he finds out that these two packages can’t be carried together; one will have to go.

 

“Why, I’ve hardly picked up this new bundle and I’m getting tired already.” After some deliberation he takes the first bundle off his back, finds a good place to put it by the side of the road, and proceeds down the road with the second. “I’ll come back and get that later,” he decides, “once I’ve found a secure place to store these other things.” Thus he leaves his first love, for the second one.

 

Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (March/April 2011), 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 Mike Atnip

 

Tucked away in the middle of the Mosaic Law is, of all things, the following building code:

When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence. De. 22:8

Now we know that the letter of the Law is not meant for the New Testament believer, but we understand that from its principle we can gain an insight into the Kingdom of God. Thus, from the prohibition of plowing with an ox and a donkey—just two verses below our text—Paul could admonish us to not be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” From another Mosaic precept, he instructs us that “muzzle not the ox that treadeth out the corn” means that we should materially support those who are laboring in the spread of the Gospel.

What can we, the citizens of the Kingdom, learn from a command to “make a battlement for thy roof”?

What is a battlement?

The first thing to settle is the definition of a “battlement.” The Hebrew word used for battlement comes from a root word meaning “to repress, or hold back” that is not used in any other place in the Bible. However, the context gives us a clear picture of the intention of a battlement: to keep people from falling off the roof, which in that culture was usually flat, and used for various purposes. So while the English word “battlement” has connotations of a defensive knee wall—such as might be found on top of the walls surrounding a castle or city—the whole gist of our text is simply that of keeping people from accidentally falling off the roof. And the builder of the house was responsible to see that an appropriate wall was built around his housetop. If someone fell off his roof because of the lack of a battlement, the owner of the house was responsible for his death.

What is a battlement not for?

This may seem to be a redundant question, but for the purpose of our study it will profit us to review a few things that a battlement is not intended for. First of all, a battlement is not a prison wall. In other words, the purpose of a battlement is not that of trying to make sure that the people on the roof can in no way, shape, nor form escape from the roof. Second, a battlement is not used to keep people on the street from getting onto the roof. Thirdly, a battlement is not meant to be used as a nice way to have seating all the way around the edges of the roof, nor a nice place to take a nap. Neither are they to be used for children as a place to play “follow the leader” and practice their balancing act. These are rather rudimentary facts, and it seems almost senseless to review them. Yet, as we proceed, we will find that many people are foolishly misusing battlements.

How tall should a battlement be?

Deuteronomy gives us no details on exactly how a battlement should look. God gave humanity common sense, and He expects us to use it sometimes. A three-inch wall simply will not serve to prevent someone from falling over the edge of a roof. In fact, such a ledge may well cause more falls than it stops. On the other hand, an eight-foot wall is unnecessary and will block off the fresh breezes and sunlight, making the rooftop an undesirable place to be.

An ideal height is somewhere in the range of the navel of an adult person. If it is much lower, whoever might happen to trip and fall against the wall will have the mass of his body weight to be higher than the top of the wall. The center of his gravity will be higher than the wall, making him unable to stop himself from going on over. While there is no reason forbidding one from building the wall higher, it is not necessary. Any person falling over a wall that is higher than his bottom rib had to be doing something abnormally foolish. No one has ever accidentally fallen over a wall that was as high as his rib cage.

Building a spiritual battlement

From these few points, we will now move into the spiritual realm and determine what we can learn from this building code. First of all, the “house” that is being built by some man is the church of God. We, as believers, constitute this house, and Jesus is the master builder. But as coworkers with him, we also are involved in the building of the house, so the statute does concern us.

Let’s take it one step further. Instead of thinking in terms of the universal church of Christ, let’s look at a local congregation. Christ is building it, and we are his colaborers. His plan calls for a battlement, to keep men from accidentally falling off the roof. What does all this mean, in practical terms?

The battlement of the conscience

As men are called into the house to be a partaker of the benefits of its shelter and direction, there needs to be a “safety wall” built around its edges. This is the conscience, which warns men that “here is the edge; any further and you will drop off.” For those whose heart and goal is to stay on the roof, this wall is a blessing. Not that they need it every day, but during a lifetime of labors, sooner or later each person will likely make that stupid step backwards, or trip over that child’s toy, which would have sent them hurtling to the street. Thankfully, a wall was there to stop them!

As mentioned above, congregational battlements are not intended to be prison walls. If someone’s heart is not set on staying in the house, the battlement can seem like so much a nuisance; after all, they reason, are not we mature enough to know better than step off a roof?

But how many times has your conscience saved you in that weak moment? That time of temptation where you would have fallen to the street with a splat, except something hindered you? However, if you are trying to escape from the roof, the battlement is of little use: one hop or a stepstool will get you over with little effort. So it is with the conscience. If you really want to do something that is not allowed “in the house,” all you have to do is leap over the wall.

How to build a church conscience

How does a local congregation build a community conscience? Sure, building a personal conscience is easy; just read the Bible and let the Spirit guide you to the precepts that it contains. After a while, you have a personal conscience built up to what you have perceived as being the will of God. Even a family conscience is not that hard, if Dad and Mom and children are living in harmony. Dad takes the lead, Mom follows and supports, and the children respect them and allow Dad and Mom to specify what is good and right for the home. The children’s consciences are slowly built up to what Dad and Mom construct in the children. By the time the child is mature, he has a battlement built up within him that will keep him in those mistakes and close calls.

But all too often this same method does not work in local congregations. Why?

Actions and reactions

One of the biggest causes of failure in building a community conscience lies in reacting to others’ failures. People misuse battlements, and the next person reacts. For example, instead of using a church conscience to aid in mishaps, some have tried to use battlements as prison walls to fence in folks who obviously have more interest in what is going on in the street than in the activities of the house. Seeing the youth lined up at the wall, leaning over and chattering with the people below, the builders laid a few more blocks on the battlement, making it head high. Then, when the same youth got some stools to stand on so they could see out and continue their communication with the people below, the builders built another layer or two on the battlement.

Did that stop those disinterested in the activities of the house from their activities? No, they simply got out some stepladders. Looking at this whole situation, some have shaken their heads and come to a conclusion: all this battlement building is useless! Determined to do things “the right way,” they moved down the street and decided that they were NOT going to use battlements to keep folks penned in. So they built a new house … without any battlements.

“Who needs battlements?” they reasoned. “If a man is careful and minds his business, he can stay away from the edge. We just simply need to be mindful and be more faithful to warn each other, and no one will fall over the edge.” So they built “virtual” battlements, ever mindful that real battlements do not keep worldly folks in the house from fellowshipping with the world.

This is, of course, a reaction. What needs to happen to those whose heart is not in the activities of the house is that the elders need to gently but firmly take them downstairs and say to them: “It is obvious that your heart is on the street. Here you are, go. When your heart is changed, we welcome you back.” Hard decision, I know, but that is what the father of the prodigal son did. It was best for both of them.

Virtual battlements

Many years ago, I worked on a construction job in the State of Wyoming that required safety inspections by OSHA standards. One of the specifications was that any scaffolding over so many feet off the ground (I forget the details) had to have a safety railing around it. Now most construction workers look at OSHA rules like a lot of people look at the Bible: a list of rules that they try to see how much they can get away with, instead of how much they can better put into practice.

Since the inspector did show up about every day, we complied to the rules, at least outwardly. One incident stands out in my mind. We had built a scaffold about 20 feet high, but had not gotten around to putting the railing on yet. Suddenly, someone noticed that the inspector had showed up, and I was instructed to quickly build a railing for the scaffold. With a couple of 2X4s and some wire, I hurriedly tied on some uprights for posts, and with another long 2X4 I made a rail, tied on with a piece of wire. The inspector eventually made his way up to where I was working, and stood there looking over the situation.

As I was on good terms with him, I laughingly said something like “Look, we have a railing. Just don’t lean on it; it might fall off!”

I expected a shake of the head and possibly a reproof with orders to build a real railing. To my great surprise, he just quietly answered, “That’s fine. All that railing is needed for is a warning to someone who backs up into it that he is near the edge. It doesn’t need to be able to stop someone from falling.”

I felt relieved and happy to hear that on that day. But there is another side to the story …

Had I tripped over something on the scaffold that day and hit that “virtual railing,” it would not have saved me from a trip to the pavement 20 feet below. Had that misfortune occurred, my opinion of “virtual railings” would have probably bottomed out.

The big question

This brings us to an important question for builders of battlements: Does a “virtual battlement” meet the requirements of Deuteronomy 22:8? Does a 2X4 tied loosely on a wobbly stake provide enough protection against falling off a roof, so that whoever trips over the edge is guilty of his own blood? For a temporary construction situation as I told about, a virtual railing is acceptable, perhaps even necessary, since the workers have to constantly be reaching out of the scaffold to do their work. But for a housetop, virtual railings do not work.

Let’s look at a real historical example. About a century before Martin Luther came along, a revival of primitive Christianity occurred in Bohemia. Fashioning their lives according to the Sermon on the Mount, these brothers built communities of believers throughout the land. Whoever desired to be a part of these churches had to agree to align his life to the teaching of Jesus, and to live that out in practical ways. Not every aspect of life was spelled out, but the brotherhood had come up with some practical applications—a battlement to surround them—that a person had to agree to before he could join. One example was to not engage in dice-making. Dice were used primarily for gambling, and the brotherhood did not want to be associated with dice-making.

Time passed and along came Martin Luther. At first, Luther was not impressed with these Bohemian brothers—“sour-looking hypocrites and self-grown saints” he called them. But as time went on, he had a change of mind. He told them later:

Tell your Brethren to hold fast what God has given them, and never give up their constitution and discipline. Let them take no heed of revilements. The world will behave foolishly. If you in Bohemia were to live as we do, what is said of us would be said of you, and if we were to live as you do, what is said of you would be said of us.

“We have never,” he added in a later letter to the Brethren, “attained to such a discipline and holy life as is found among you, but in the future we shall make it our aim to attain it.”

History tells us that neither Luther nor his churches ever attained it. His virtual battlement was too weak to hold his movement from falling into the street. The lesson? Churches without battlements eventually go over the edge.

The next big question

How does a church build a real battlement? How is a conscience—solid biblical convictions engraved into the heart—built?

Building a battlement consists of solid teaching of biblical principles, backed up by real-life applications to those principles. At the same time, it is made known that there is a line—or in this case a wall—that is not to be crossed on purpose. Whoever willfully climbs over the wall will not be allowed to climb back in, without genuine repentance. In this way, the person on the roof cannot claim that he never realized the danger. When he makes that forgetful step backwards, something will stop him: the teachings and admonishments that he received. When he trips over the toy on the floor, that pure doctrine with practical applications will be as a “battlement” to stop him from going all the way over.

The battle over written standards

Some churches have tried to build a stronger battlement by having a written standard that all members must adhere to. While the example of the Bohemian Brethren may have seemed to be just that, I do not think that all their applications were written out. The bottom line is, one would need a fat, fat book to spell out all the real-life applications to biblical principles.

Let’s consider dangers on both sides of the “written standards” issue. There is a danger with written standards, namely that only those applications that are spelled out become the battlement. In other words, suppose that we have 25 applications spelled out on a paper, but the reality is that biblical applications touch hundreds of other areas of our lives. The danger is that one can begin to think that there are no further applications than those that are written down.

Now the reverse: there is a danger in not writing out any applications, namely that people get the idea that the congregation has no expectations. Everyone lives by his own application without regard to others.

I have seen both kinds of shipwreck; it is a toss-up as to which one is more disastrous. Let’s look at a real life example of both kinds.

Applications without principle

It is common knowledge that some Mennonite churches have a standard that all cars be black, some even requiring a black bumper. While some may snuff their noses immediately at such a requirement, I am slow to do so, even though I currently drive an all-white minivan.

Back when cars first began to be mass-produced, some of the Mennonites looked at the issue of horseless carriages and decided that there was no inherent spiritual harm in these contraptions, and that it could be consistent with Christian character to use them. Others were not sure about that and stuck to horses. However, those that did decide to use the motorized vehicle decided that if one did get a car, it should be a plain one, not all spiced up with fancy colors or shiny accessories.

Henry Ford had said concerning his product: “The customer can order any color of car he desires, as long as it is black.” And so every car that rolled off his new assembly line was black, just like all John Deeres are green. Keeping in line with the biblical principle of simplicity and modesty, the first Mennonites to get vehicles kept them simple: plain ol’ black cars.

Time moved on, and as cars began to be more common, some worldly folks wanted to stand out from the crowd and began to want other colors of cars besides plain ol’ black ones. Ford Motor Company caught on, and soon one could order other colors. Then came accessories: running lights, reflectors, chromed mirrors and bumpers, and a host of other options. The Mennonites, or at least some of them, kept right on using plain ol’ black cars.

More decades passed. Cars kept evolving, and the customer kept demanding more and more options, and car companies kept competing for the market by adding more options. By this time, so many people wanted such a variety of colors, a solid black car was just one option out of maybe 25, and chrome bumpers became standard equipment.

Fast forward to 1985 … I am visiting a Mennonite congregation that requires black cars. On my visit to this particular congregation, I learned how the system operated. All of the young men would wash and wax their cars on Saturday evening, preparing them for the Sunday morning lineup, where they were all parked side by side in one gleaming black row. Once while riding with a friend that attended there, I became very puzzled when he turned onto a gravel road and began to drive about 10 mph—something extremely out of place for one who usually was on the other end of the speedometer. At my question as to why, he remarked, “Well, I already washed my car (it was a Saturday afternoon), and I don’t want to get it dusty before tomorrow. I am driving slow so I don’t stir up dust (and get my car dusty for the lineup tomorrow morning).”

Somewhere along the line, the application lost some of the principle …

Principles without applications

A scene comes to my mind that illustrates the opposite ditch. I was relaxing in my house one Sunday afternoon when a single, young man came to visit us. Knowing him well, I could tell he was disturbed about something. But rather than ask him about it, I thought I would just let it come out naturally. He chatted small talk for a few minutes, then suddenly burst out, “I thought this church didn’t have any standards?!”

He was referring to the fact that the congregation did not publish a written standard.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He spilled out his story. He was from a far western state and was planning to go visit his family. At the same time, he found out an elderly lady in the congregation was planning on visiting the same state. As neither of them had much in material means, immediately the idea clicked in their minds: Why not him ride along with her, help her with the driving, and split the costs? They immediately made plans to leave in a couple of days.

But their plans were squashed by a concerned minister in the congregation. Hearing of their plans, he approached them and said, “I trust both of you, and know you mean well, but I do not think it would be a good testimony for an unmarried man and woman to drive 1500 miles together.”

The young man came to my place to let off his steam. “She’s old enough to be my grandmother! You can’t tell me this church doesn’t have a standard!” He was thinking that no written standard meant no congregational applications to real-life, everyday situations; a sad mistake to make.

Rodeo in the church

For a final story, I will relate a true situation, as I was told it. The bishop of a conservative Mennonite church was once questioned why he did not want his church to take the no-written-standard approach for his congregation. “Why, it would be a rodeo!” he exclaimed.

Some ten years later, this same bishop had a change of heart concerning the matter. Following a brothers’ meeting, the congregation decided to do away with a written standard. When he was later reminded of his earlier statement and asked the outcome of that decision, the bishop replied, “Why, we had a rodeo! The very next Sunday all the clothes came out of the back of the closets!”

Let’s park here on this incident, and look at it with an objective mind. Which type of administration failed?

Immediately, we see the failure of the no-written-standard approach. The very next Sunday, the people of the congregation “took their liberty” and dressed themselves in clothes that, according to the bishop’s words, were not in line with the principles of a converted heart. Their changing from a written standard to an unwritten standard did not help them one iota. But upon a closer look, we also see the failure of the written standard administration. While the worldly clothes did not openly appear, they were there in the back of the closet all the time. In this case, both types of administration failed to deliver the people from their carnality.

The bottom line

The bottom line of this whole matter is that both the “unwritten standard” and the “written standard” administrations have strengths and weaknesses. The reality is that there is no type of church administration that can change a carnal heart, if that heart has decided to love what this earth holds out to him. When the members lose their interest in the business of the house and turn it towards the going on in the street below, a common response is to just add on another layer of rules, turning what was supposed to be a battlement into prison walls. On the other hand, others want nothing to do with “rules” and so they sigh and breathe a prayer, hoping that things will turn out alright in the end. And so the battlement turns into a yellow warning tape stretched around the perimeter of the rooftop, printed with “We recommend that you do not step beyond this line.”

Whose conscience rules?

Does individual conscience trump the community conscience, or does the church conscience overrule each individual’s perception of right and wrong? Again, we find extremes on both ends, and plenty of shipwrecks to learn from.

On the rocks of “church conscience only,” we find the remains of congregations who are like mindless zombies, able only to quote the 35 rules of the statute book. As to why Statute 25 states that such and such should be done, these folks can only tell you “because that is the way it has always been, and that is what the church says.” As far as any personal convictions to shield them from danger while operating outside the sphere of the 35 written rules—which is actually the majority of the time—they have none. And so a whole list of inconsistencies stare them in the face; but they are blind to them, since the rulebook has obliterated any personal conscience.

Meanwhile, on the reefs of “individual conscience only” we see the flotsam of congregations who have rejected any community conscience. Many of these ships have hit these reefs by trying to make really, really sure they miss the rocks of “church conscience only.” Their only compass was each man’s own opinion, and the ship wrecked because some turned the rudder right while others were turning the sails to make her go left.

The community conscience

Any group of people working together has to come to some common agreements. If two carpenters are building a house, one cannot make his walls eight feet tall while the other builds his section seven feet tall. One or the other has to give up his will, or the house will be one big mess.

In the same way, any congregation of believers has to develop a “community conscience.” Can a church survive if one member is telling everyone to get involved in politics and the next is telling everyone it is a sin to get involved in it? Will a congregation prosper if some families have a conscience against contemporary music, while other families invite the children over and have them listen to it, telling them there is nothing wrong with it?

A brotherhood has to come to a common consensus on the basics of real-life, practical issues. Whether they then administrate this consensus by “written standards” or “unwritten standards” is somewhat beside the point. As mentioned, both administrations have strengths and weaknesses.

Submitting to my brother’s conscience

In 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, Paul gives us a great secret to achieving our goal of unity. The key phrases are “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth (well-being),” and “why is my liberty judged of (ruled by) another man’s conscience?”

An example of being ruled by another’s conscience would be the case of the young man I mentioned earlier who was thinking to travel with the older lady. His conscience gave him liberty to do that, but his brother’s conscience did not. Whose conscience was to rule? According to Paul, the concerned brother’s conscience was to override the young man’s “freedom,” since his brother did not feel comfortable with the situation. This is called submission, a word our human nature hates with a passion. Needless to say, any congregation that does not practice this type of brotherly submission is headed for a shipwreck.

Romans 14 also deals with this submission. The verse often misused in this chapter is the following: “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” In a situation where there is a clash of opinions on an issue, this verse often comes up, with one side telling the other: “The kingdom of heaven is not about such issues, so I do not need to listen to you.” However, that is exactly the opposite of the meaning of that verse.

Paul is really saying, “Since the kingdom of heaven is not centered on what a person eats or drinks, then why do you fuss when your brother tries to forbid you from eating something? Submit yourself and give it up for his sake! It won’t hurt your walk with God to give it up, since the kingdom is not centered on that!”

A final word on the conscience

Before leaving this theme, a warning is necessary. Don’t depend entirely on conscience—either community or personal. The conscience is not the final rule of authority in the Christian life. Jesus the Word and the Holy Spirit are the final authorities; the conscience is only a tool in their hands. Some people make the grievous error of letting their—or the community’s—conscience be their lord. In fact, such people are idolizing the conscience by making it lord of their life. These folks never grow in their Christian life, and usually end up drifting into more and more worldliness, slowly but surely, since their conscience has no outside input. Let Jesus—not your conscience—be your Lord. Let Him define your battlement, not your battlement define Him.

To depend on the conscience without the lordship of Jesus is like Eutychus in Acts 20, who misused the windowsill. Windowsills are not beds. Neither are battlements. Don’t sleep on them!

In conclusion

The conscience—both personal and community—is our battlement, a safety wall in times of weakness and mishap, and a gentle, constant reminder of the line between the roof and the ground below. Used correctly, they are a great blessing. Remove them, and you may someday find yourself lying on the pavement below, one mangled mess.

May we recognize there are “diversities of operations” and be careful in condemning those who don’t “operate” exactly like we do. May we act—and not react—when we see others misusing battlements. And finally, may God bless you as you build battlements for your house!

 

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

X