Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Holy Spirit?... ,or the accuser of the brethren?

From time to time I hear people say that the Holy Spirit convicted them of this or that. My question to them is this; is it the Holy Spirit, or the accuser of the brethren? Let me say that it is almost always the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10-11.) The main reason is that people have misunderstood John 16:8-11. Most often they use John 16:8 alone. This robs it of its contextual meaning and makes it say something that it does not say. The Holy Spirit DOES NOT convict willy-nilly of sin. It specifically convicts those who do not believe in Jesus (see it in the context of the three verses.) The only sin that the Holy Spirit convicts of is unbelief. John 16:8-11  And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:  (9)  of sin, because they do not believe in Me;  (10)  of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more;  (11)  of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

On the other hand, according to Revelation 12:10-11, the accuser of the brethren, (Satan) is trying to convict saints day and night. It is his full time job to tempt and to accuse. When you yield to his temptation, immediately he begins to accuse. He is trying to drive a wedge between God and the saint. If he can trick you into believing you are being convicted by the Holy Spirit he causes a separation between you and God. God doesn’t go anywhere but the separation is in your mind. This is part of the roaring lion act. He ever tries to devour.

The main job of the Holy Spirit is to assure you of God’s love for you and to help you rest in the redemption found in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit indwells to generate spiritual fruit. Gal 5:22-23  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  (23)  gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” Resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ is what produces the fruit. It gives you peace with God which creates joy and love for God. This gives patience, goodness, and kindness and continuously develops faithfulness and puts you on the path of self-control.

What I am discussing here is the nuts and bolts of how the transformation process works practically. It explains the operation of the transformation within a believer. This is how the gospel and faith in Jesus begins to bring about the new creation. This is a process that is ongoing in the life of a believer. It is imperative that one rests in the redemption found in Christ at all times. It is renewing the mind to the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.

Look at this. What is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God? It is belief in Jesus… (John 6:39-40 (39)“This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.  (40)  And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." Here you have it plain as day. Doing God’s will, his good, acceptable and perfect will, is having faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus is complete and total trust. It is depending on, trusting in and clinging to Jesus. It is apprehending the provisions of the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and nothing else!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Evangelicals, the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, and a strictly redemptive focus to the bible

I have been writing this blog for over two years now, and time and time again, in various and many ways I have posited that Jesus and his first century followers saw the scripture as solely redemptive in nature. First by their redefining of the phrase word of God, and secondly by Jesus’ outright declarations such as John 5:39-40 & Luke 24:27, 43-45. In article XII of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy you can find this denial; “We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes.” I want to focus on the redemptive themes phrase. I believe that it is limited to solely redemptive themes. It is the story of redemption. It has no other purpose.

It is not a law book, science book, manual for living, or any other such book that you may think of. It is strictly, solely, and completely an inspired history book that posits the history of redemption. Those who do the best job of properly explaining the gospel within evangelical and fundamental Christianity are those who revere the idea that the Bible contains a crimson thread of redemption. The plain truth of the matter is that it is ONLY “the redemptive thread” that is the sole purpose of the scripture. It points to Christ Jesus to provide life. It does not have, nor has it ever had, a legal constitutional purpose except for the time of Moses and the Exodus… and it was solely for the Nation Israel… and it was negated because Israel broke the agreement. There is no other way that it has a legal constitutional purpose. That legal and constitutional purpose is limited to the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The rest of the bible, including the four mentioned books, is otherwise the history of redemption.

This is so important to understand when using the scripture for faith and practice. It is designed to encourage those who are unsure about God and his purpose to redeem humanity. This is an area where so many evangelicals and fundamentalists get their back up. They believe that Christianity as we know it would disappear if they would adapt the solely redemptive view of scripture (I am not so sure that would be a bad result.) Let me shout this out. IT WILL NOT DEMINISH THE INSPIRATION OF THE SCRIPTURE TO SEE IT AS SOLELY REDEMPTIVE! Jesus can still be divine. God can be the one true God. Those facts are not compromised by seeing scripture as solely redemptive. In fact, I believe that opposite is the case. Jesus will be more highly revered and God will be loved much more.

This will require an extreme paradigm shift however. It is so seductive to see the bible as a legal constitutional document. It has been viewed that way for thousands of years now. However, If EVERYONE would embrace the solely redemptive view, and ingrain it in all teaching… then, when people are resting in the redemption found solely in Jesus Christ; Then, we could begin to allow the law and Christian walk admonitions to inform us on ways to show our love for God. Not as a must… “thou shalt and shalt not”… but as a way to embrace and live out our real station in life, which is to be the obvious sons and daughters of God.

Evangelical and fundamental theologians and leaders will claim that the bible does not support such an idea. I say unequivocally that they are just plain wrong. It depends on how you look at the story, and who is telling the story. It comes down to the lens that you use to look at the biblical narrative. My claim throughout this blog is that the scripture teaches that Jesus and his followers changed the lens and paradigm. Here we call ourselves Christians and we use the Pharisee-Judaic lens of looking at scripture. It would seem to me that people who named Jesus Christ as their leader would view scripture as he did. I implore you to thoughtfully and prayerfully read through this blog… and be a Berean.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why do people fear grace?

This blog chronicles a journey. It is a journey of thought that has led to a paradigm shift. I have not had to throw the baby out with the bath water (please pardon the overused metaphor.) What I mean is that so many of my colleagues and friends are getting away from the importance of Jesus and redemption. Some are merely ridding themselves of speaking of reconciliation at all. They are moving to a far more classically liberal view of Christianity. They see Jesus as merely a great moral teacher and not so much Savior and Lord. In my view that is totally unnecessary. Evangelicals do not have a lock on relationship with God via Jesus Christ. There are Christian mystics that reject most of evangelical doctrine and dogma. I am one such individual.

I still maintain a relatively high view of scripture. Redemptively, I see it as the word of God. After all, that is exactly what Jesus and his first century followers taught; the gospel, and Jesus the living gospel is the word of God. Luther and Calvin got many things wrong. Imputed righteousness and forensic justification was NOT one of them. It is the foundation, the very ground for true reconciliation with God. Apprehending it is the vehicle that brings about peace with God and thereby transformation into a more Christ like being.

So then, the question of this post is why do people (specifically so many evangelicals) fear grace? I think the reason is obvious. They deeply fear God. I am often reminded of the proverb; “there is a way that seemeth right unto a man but the end thereof is the way of death.” The way that seems right to humanity is reformation of behavior. Following a written code will bring righteousness. It seems so right. The problem is that it CANNOT eliminate fear. What kind of death does this legal mind set bring? Spiritual death. Every time some poor soul walks down an isle for rededication they are having a spiritual rebirth that will not last! Every time someone vows to be better, live better, pray more, fast more… you fill in the action… they are setting themselves up for spiritual death. Not a death that leads to damnation; rather a death that kills the spirit operating in their lives. They set themselves up for hiding from God. They hide, and hide, and hide and hide, and then finally, they make a public or secret repentance, and wait for the scene to repeat itself in perpetuity.

This cycle is completely unnecessary. The gospel was designed to bring peace with God twenty-four seven... once for all time. One believing the gospel should rest in the love, mercy and grace of God at all times. This is precisely why the Apostle John wrote the words that “perfect love casts out fear.” One who has been perfected in love should not fear… not ever! Grace is the precise treatment for fear; going boldly to the throne of grace is what the believer should always do. They should rest in it. This in the long run will bring about real transformation.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jesus redefined the term word of God; so what?

One of the many themes that I have emphasized over and over in this blog is the fact that Jesus and his followers redefined the phrase word of God to mean gospel. Another theme that is similar but not exactly the same is the fact that Jesus gave the scripture a redemptive focus. The two together make a radical paradigm shift. So, there is a radical paradigm shift… so what?

The main thing that happens is that grace trumps law. God has always been gracious and merciful, slow to anger and eager to forgive. However, Jesus shift in the definition of the term word of God, and his redemptive focus shift, offers the proof that grace trumps law. It changes the focus from law/Torah to grace, forgiveness, and rest in the love of God. It was best stated by the apostle John; (John 1:17 NKJV)  “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” What does that mean exactly? Well, the law that was given through Moses was neither grace nor truth. Let me unpack that a little more.

The law was given to show God’s exact standard of righteousness. The greatest commandment, the Shema, (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength; is quite a task indeed. Take a good long at it. Look at the word ALL. That makes it impossible by human effort alone. How many times have I pointed out in this blog that we can say we love God, but if we are fearful of him we cannot really love him, and most definitely, we CANNOT love him with ALL our heart, soul, and strength. We can say that we do but it would be merely bearing false witness.

That is where grace and truth come into play. Grace can produce that love for God based upon unlimited grace. It is the only thing that will produce love for God. Secondly, we must face the truth that it is only in light of God’s grace that we can muster up any love at all for him. As John stated in his epistle, we love him because he first loved us. How did he demonstrate the love you ask? The answer is simple… his grace as shown in Christ Jesus, and his death, burial, and resurrection.

I will return to the original question… Jesus changed the definition of the term word of God and gave scripture a solely redemptive purpose… so what? The answer is that one can never rest in God’s grace as long as they are confronted with the law. If they see the law as the standard for righteousness they will always find that they fall short in some way or another. As long as they always seem to fall short they will continue to fear God. So then, the only thing that frees us up to obey the greatest commandment is unlimited grace. And if we get in a position where we truly love God without fear, we will see the other commandments begin to fall into place in our lives because of our love for God.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What if an entire fellowship believed that grace is the transforming catalyst?

Picture a local fellowship; one where everyone was totally sold on the idea that grace is the catalyst for transforming lives; one that believed that God was really truly not keeping track of sin; one that truly believed that it is the kindness and mercy of God that leads to repentance; one that was determined to never have anyone judge another; one where everyone was at peace with God, and resting completely in his love, mercy, and grace; one where the leaders believed in no condemnation; one that considered its main evangelistic responsibility to announce that God has reconciled humanity to himself through Christ Jesus; one that knows that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. What would be the outcome of such a fellowship? What kind of spiritual fruit would its members produce? This has long been a desire of mine. I have searched high and low for it.

Unfortunately, every time that I have found one that was leaning in this direction, there would always be someone who would say that the people really needed to be warned about sin, encouraged not to sin, and little by little, God’s grace was relegated to a conversion experience or a rededication experience. God’s grace was indeed not for everyday… after all didn’t Paul say “should we sin so grace would abound,” and of course, his immediate answer was “God forbid!”

The problem is we are selective in our reading and understanding. How you ask? Well it is very simple… Paul was being somewhat facetious. The fact is that he knew that sinning so that grace could abound was not the point. What he said in Romans five was this; (Rom 5:20 NKJV)  “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more,” The law was given to point out all of the offenses. Humanity needed to be completely aware of how sinful it was based upon the fall of the first Adam (verse 19). One cannot sin to make grace abound. That is absurd. Grace abounds on the declaration of God. Grace abounds beyond and above sin and it is simply a fact. Those who are worried about acknowledging unlimited grace because it may cause sin are just being foolish. They do not understand the catalyst of true transformation. The true catalyst for transformation is God’s grace.

Well…  how so… you ask? Easily, unlimited grace is the source of peace with God. Peace with God is the source of TRUE LOVE for God. TRUE LOVE for God is the catalyst for transformation. It is the real source of obedience. It is obedience motivated by love. When one truly loves another they want to please the other. When we truly love God we want to please God. God has told us through Jesus what pleases him. It is really quite simple. He wants us to love one another. If we trust him for unlimited grace we will strive to please him more and more, and when we fail, we can rest in grace, and guess what, that makes us even love him more! I hear that sixties song playing in my head again… “Where have all the flowers gone”… the line that keeps repeating is … when will they ever learn? – when will they--- ever learn?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Overcoming Biblio-idolatry

The bible is inspired by the Holy Ghost. I want to get that out of the way right off the bat. That said, I have established over and over again in this blog that Jesus redefined the phrase *word of God* to be the gospel, or himself, the living walking gospel and gave scripture a solely redemptive focus (John 5:39-40; Luke 24:27, 44 – 47.) Paul also reinforced the redemptive focus of scripture in 2Tim 3:15. He told timothy that the scripture would make one wise for salvation and thereby established the solely redemptive focus. Verses 16 and 17 of the same passage must be viewed within the redemptive purpose. In other words, it is only profitable from a redemptive point of view. The unbelieving Pharisees are examples of it not being profitable.

While the bible is inspired, not all of the messages are of equal value. For example; Exodus 21:7-11 gives the instructions on how a man should sell his daughter as a concubine. Exodus 12:48 – 49 explains how a Gentile can become a part of the people of God. This is not a message that has relevance in the new covenant. It must also be remembered that the New Testament writings are transitional. The New Testament writings move from Old Covenant Judaism before the cross, to the birth of the Jewish Christianity at Pentecost, to the inclusion of the Gentiles in Acts chapter ten. All of the New Testament epistles are written to help facilitate this transition. All of the New Testament writings were written before the destruction of the temple and the judgment of the unbelieving Jews. Therefore… not even all… of the New Testament writings have equal value today. However, they all have value from a redemptive point of view because they represent and tell the story of redemption.

This is the reason that Jesus and his followers went to such lengths to redefine the phrase word of God to gospel and Jesus the living gospel. They wanted to be sure that Christ believers, (I like this term better than the term Christians) were able to use this focus as they used and read the scripture. This redemptive view of scripture would help people to be much more open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

We as Christ followers today can gain a lot by bringing this focus to our scripture study. It is the key to help us overcome the constitutional, legal reading of the scripture. It will enable us to take the scripture for what it is rather than turn it into an idol that we in reality place above God. Is it possible that the Holy Spirit communicated to individuals within their greater cultural context and understanding? Of course it is. It makes perfect sense. In times of the acceptability of concubines, the Holy Spirit ensured that they would at least be treated fairly and humanely.  Prior to the advent of the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to provide a way for Gentiles to be included in the people of God. Could it be that if we would open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, He would give us ways to deal with the things that we experience in our culture today? Might it be different than the way it was done in past cultures?  When you think of it that way... it only makes common sense that it would.

Removing biblio-idolatry would give us the opportunity to ask the question; how would love react to this or that?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why call it a paradigm shift?

I certainly have had a paradigm shift over the last few years. I was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist environment, and had evangelical fundamentalist doctrine ingrained in me from the time of a small child in junior church to my early twenties. In my early twenties I got married, left home and went to a state university. Over time my paradigm shifted toward a liberal humanist point of view. While I rejected the assumptions of fundamental Christianity, I none-the-less maintained a strong belief in a Creator God. I believed deeply in a spiritual purpose to our existence on earth.

From my twenties to my mid-forties I continued on with a liberal humanist point of view, and my religious leanings were somewhat pantheistic and slightly new aged. It was in my late forties that I began to see that humanism was not accomplishing its intended result. Humanity was not getting better with education. I saw the innate pathology in myself and others and was watching the world become increasingly callous and evil. In view of this I became reactionary and returned to the evangelical roots. I initially was drawn toward the most legal aspects of Pentecostalism because I thought that this would perhaps be the way to eliminate the pathology that I had grown to dislike.

Over time, I saw that legalism was not really improving me in any substantial way, and it became obvious that it was not improving anyone; especially the ones who thought they were the holiest. What I really saw was that those who were striving to be the holiest were in fact some of the meanest, angriest, most self-righteous people I had ever met. Still, I could not shake my abiding belief in Jesus and redemption, in the Father’s love for humanity, and I did not stop the deep and ever growing relationship that I had with Jesus and the Father via the indwelling Holy Spirit. I knew down deep in my being that evangelical Christianity was way off the mark but I could not demonstrate it to my satisfaction with the scripture. Yet, through all of this the Spirit of God would continue to tell me to “read it all Joe.” I heard this often, and I always knew that the Spirit was telling me that I should read it all because somehow, some way, I did not properly understand what the scripture really said; what I needed was a paradigm shift.

I remained faithful to the prompting and I would continue to read. What I began to see was the Jesus and his followers had shifted paradigms. I saw this shift in four distinctively important ways. First, it was the way in which they viewed scripture… they saw it as solely redemptive. Secondly, they redefined the phrase “word of God” to mean either the gospel, or Jesus the living gospel. Third, I began to see that the New Testament writings were transitional between two covenants. They began with the Old Covenant and a strictly Jewish audience, and progressed to a shift that included the gentiles without circumcision and Torah observance… looking forward to a time when the age to come would make the New Covenant, the only covenant. Fourth and finally, they saw the impending judgment of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple as the end of the age and the beginning of the age to come.

When you stop to think about it, this is a significant paradigm shift; One that was not continued by the early church fathers. The interesting thing about that is that the early church fathers did not come on the scene until forty-years after the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem. There is a complete silence for forty to fifty years. The faith and practice that began after the forty year silence did not really resemble the faith and practice prior to the destruction of the temple. The fact is… what ended up being known as Christianity, resembled the practice of the Pharisees much more than it did the first century church. Yes, the leaven of the Pharisees did in fact permeate the Church from the early church fathers forward. I have concluded that it is the strong delusion of 2Thessalonians 2:11.

The original paradigm shift was brought about by Jesus and those who immediately followed him and was subsequently lost. I optimistically believe that it will soon be recovered by more and more people.

The two overriding messages of the scripture

While this blog is dedicated to my paradigm shift it is also about the way in which evangelical Christianity is off the mark in doctrine and...